Brilliant Business Moms with Beth Anne Schwamberger

Love this strategy! Affordable Facebook ads with a unique email offer. This Etsy Shop owner is so smart! Email List Building, Marketing for Small Business, Etsy Seller Tips | brilliantbusinessmoms.com

Does growing your email list feel like a slow, painful process? It can be especially difficult as a shop owner without a website to call your own. How do you attract those leads? And how do you create a landing page to get them without setting up your own website?

Danielle Arran of the Etsy Shop NarraNest will teach you how to do it with a unique strategy that's increased her email list by 10X in just 2.5 months. Her results are astounding! But they're results that a real Mamapreneur just starting out in business - a woman just like you - was able to attain.

On the Podcast

01:28 - Nesting for Baby, Nesting for Business
03:30 - Danielle's Unique Opt-In Offer
06:05 - How to Use Facebook Ads to Grow your List
10:42 - Facebook Ad Quick Tips
15:52 - Gleam for Giveaways
18:44 - What to do with a Closed Giveaway
21:52 - How to Advertise without Wasting your Money
27:25 - Danielle's Exponential List Growth
30:50 - Danielle Ignores the Gurus - Maybe you Should Too!
53:39 - Danielle's Awesome iPhone Trick
43:10 - A Unique Way to do Market Research
48:17 - How to Help your Customer Try on your Product
54:55 - Juniper the Comedian!

Press Play on the Podcast Player below to hear from Danielle

Nesting for Baby, Nesting for Business

When Danielle was in the nesting phase of her pregnancy, she looked everywhere for the perfect items to complete baby Juniper's room. She couldn't find just what she wanted, so she decided to make items instead. She found fabric she really loved and got to work making bedding, blankets, and other items for her baby-to-be.

Danielle knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur someday, and finally her time and talents aligned to make it happen. NarraNest began in January of 2015, and the shop is filled with beautiful, organic bedding, blankets, bibs, and baby-wearing accessories. NarraNest believes in kindness to mama, kindness to the Earth, and supporting the sacred bond between Mama and baby with safe, natural products.

Danielle's Unique Opt-in Offer

The gurus always tell us that we need to give away something really great in order to get people on our email list. Well, Danielle took that advice to the extreme! Instead of giving away a checklist, printable, or guide, Danielle gives away something much better to her subscribers - one of the products from her shop!

Danielle decided that her opt-in incentive would be a giveaway of her own product each month. As long as someone stays subscribed to her list, they'll hear about the new giveaway for the month and have a chance to enter. Her reasoning was that someone who is interested in winning her products may also be interested in buying her products. (Makes sense! I don't have a baby right now so I'm not excited to win Danielle's items, but a new parent absolutely would be, and that's Danielle's target customer.)

Danielle's other reasoning for paying for email subscribers in the form of free products: If you pay to get someone on your email list, that's someone you can build a relationship with over the long term. When you have just the right product to share, they will be there waiting to hear about it and buy. That email subscriber may purchase from you multiple times over the course of your relationship.

How to Use Facebook Ads to Grow your List

When Danielle decided on her giveaway strategy to attract new subscribers, she started by announcing them on her Facebook page and Instagram. Each time, she'd gain about 100 new subscribers. That was nice, but she wanted more.

For her October 2015 Giveaway, Danielle decided to try Facebook ads to make a bigger impact. She was excited to try Facebook ads in particular because you can pinpoint who sees your ads. Danielle knows exactly who her ideal customer is, so she wanted to see if she could reach them with an ad.

How She Got Started:
Danielle created a regular post on her Facebook page with an image and a description telling someone how they could enter the giveaway. Danielle gave away a baby carrier cover from her shop. You can see Danielle's original Facebook post here.

From there, Danielle went into the Facebook Ads Platform and chose that post as the content that she wanted to promote. She chose to target women in the US and Canada between 24-35 years old, and who have an interest in one of the baby carrier brands (for example, Ergo) and were expectant or new parents. For the October giveaway, this was just one great big combined audience of 110,000 people.

In subsequent months, Danielle has broken down this large audience into multiple, smaller audiences to compare how they each stack up to each other in terms of cost and engagement. You can run just one campaign, with the same "ad" (the post that describes the giveaway) but create multiple audiences to target. Then you can directly compare them to each other and home in on the groups that give you the biggest bang for your buck.

Note: Danielle did not just boost her post. She turned that post into an ad. You have to go into the ads platform to have all of the specific targeting options available to you.

Facebook Ad Quick Tips

  • Use a native post as your ad. You can take any old post from your Facebook page, then go into the ads manager and choose that content to be an ad. This can be very effective because that ad looks like a natural post that would show up in someone's Facebook feed. Facebook users may be more likely to engage with that ad content.
  • To help your post spread, you can optimize for engagement. If your goal is to get lots of likes, comments, and shares on your post, you may want to optimize for engagement rather than bid for clicks. Of course Danielle wanted people to click through her post and enter the giveaway, but she also didn't want to pay for every single click. She wanted people to share her post organically and let friends in on the great giveaway. She also wanted to content to show up in others' newsfeeds organically because it was getting a lot of engagement from their friends on Facebook. People did interact with Danielle's post as though it was a native post. She has 495 likes on the post, 144 comments, and 64 shares! And Danielle paid just $65 for this level of engagement.
  • Engage with every comment you get on your ad. Women were commenting on Danielle's post telling her what a neat product she had, asking her if they were eligible to enter, or asking about other colors and product availability. Danielle responded to every single comment. She even responded to the more general comments like "great giveaway!" Why? Because by simply writing back something nice like "thanks! Hope you win!" there's a chance that person may see the post in their feed again, or that because Danielle tagged them, some of their top friends on Facebook would see that activity too. Again, all of those comments and interactions give Danielle even more unpaid reach for her post.
  • Get Razor-Sharp with your Targeting. Danielle didn't just target all new parents with her giveaway. She got really specific and targeted new parents who already expressed an interest in baby carrier brands. She's targeting not just new parents, but parents who are baby carrier users because those are the individuals who will just love her baby carrier cover and would use it in their daily lives. Whatever your business sells, get specific with your targeting to reach customers who have already expressed interest in a very similar product or a tightly related product.
  • Audience Size can be Big or Small. This probably seems like it's not a helpful tip, but hear me out! You do want to get razor-sharp with your targeting, but if you've whittled your ad down to an audience of just 50,000 people or so, you may find that you're paying quite a lot to reach that small number of people. If this is the case, expand your reach a bit and try an audience size of about a million people. Compare your results. Which size and targeting options are getting you the most bang for your buck? There's not one right answer here, but testing and realizing that if you're paying a lot for not-so-great results, audience size may be partly to blame.

Gleam for Giveaways

Danielle knew she wanted several features for the giveaway app she chose. She ultimately went with Gleam for several reasons:

  • Gleam integrates directly with Mailchimp
  • Gleam provides a stand-alone landing page for the giveaway. This is a must for Danielle because she's an Etsy shop owner without her own website. She didn't have a place to embed a landing page.
  • Gleam lets you ask a question of your audience as a bonus-entry option for them. Danielle says this market research is gold!
  • Gleam lets entrants refer their friends to earn extra giveaway entries - this makes the giveaway more likely to spread organically.

Danielle pays $39/month for Gleam.

What to do with a Closed Giveaway

Once a giveaway starts to spread, it's a shame to see people visit the page and simply walk away because the giveaway is now closed. Since Danielle does a new giveaway each month, she can simply point these prospective entrants to the new giveaway entry page and close the loop.

Once a certain giveaway ends, Danielle turns that link into a MailChimp opt-in page. She can customize the opt-in form with a photo of her business, and include information at the top to let people know that even though this giveaway is now closed, they can click on the link and head to the new giveaway. Danielle doesn't lose any referral traffic this way.

How to Advertise without Wasting your Money

Many small business owners are afraid to advertise because they have a limited budget for their business. It's so discouraging to invest in advertising only to feel like you just dumped your money down the drain. But it is possible to advertise wisely and make a profit from your efforts. Danielle recommends starting small, running tests, and only increasing your advertising budget when you start to see results.

Danielle started her October giveaway with just a few dollars of ad spend, but once she saw great results in the form of entries, shares, and engagement on her post, she knew it made sense to invest more. Danielle also saw several sales come in rather quickly after she started her ad, so she took the profits from those sales and reinvested that into more advertising for the giveaway.

In total, Danielle spent $55 on Facebook ads for her October Giveaway. She gained 788 email subscribers as a result. That's insane!! Danielle got email subscribers at just 7 cents per lead. In the internet marketing world a good price per lead is $1-$2. So pennies per lead is quite incredible.

Danielle is making advertising work in her handmade business with small profit margins. It could work for you too, but you'll have to be creative, test constantly, and not get discouraged if your first attempt isn't a smashing success.

Danielle's Exponential List Growth

Danielle's monthly giveaway strategy has paid off in big ways for her business. On October 1, she had 224 email subscribers. Her goal for the year was to hit 500 subscribers. After Danielle blew that goal out of the water with her first paid giveaway, she set a new goal to hit 2,500 subscribers in 2015. At the time of the podcast interview in mid-December, Danielle has already surpassed that goal with 2750 subscribers. She has more than 10X'ed her email list in 2.5 months!

Lets subscribers know that as long as they're subscribed, they're automatically entered in that month's giveaways - or automatically find out - so chance they will keep opening to find out about the next month's giveaway and how to enter.

Danielle has also added more followers on other forms of social media as well - growing Facebook from 234 to 1533 fans, Instagram to 2,000 followers, and another 1,000 new followers on Pinterest.

We were curious about whether these new subscribers stick around or simply unsubscribe when they find out they didn't win. Danielle says they tend to stick around because they know there's a new giveaway coming next month. She hopes that encourages them to open emails from her so they won't miss out.

Danielle's list growth is resulting in sales too. Her last quarter of sales for 2015 is more than her total sales for the 9 months before that. Although this is Danielle's first year and she knows it's the holiday season, it's pretty easy to see that a good portion of her traffic and sales are coming through her email list too.

Danielle Ignores the Gurus - Maybe you Should Too!

Danielle has found that much of the advice that the gurus give on email marketing doesn't work so well for her and her handmade business. Instead, she's developed a system that works for her and keeps her subscribers happy. Below are all the ways Danielle ignores the gurus.

  • Danielle sends just one welcome email. Most gurus suggest sending a long auto-responder series to new subscribers to introduce them to you and your business, give them great advice and content, and build a relationship. But Danielle found that she had a higher unsubscribe rate when she had a 3-part welcome series versus her current system of just one welcome email. It was too much for her subscribers, because she wanted to send them updates every few weeks as well. One email to introduce herself and make a great impression is just right for Danielle.
  • Danielle doesn't teach in her emails. Since Danielle is always creating new products to keep her customers coming back, she doesn't feel the need to educate and inform in her emails. That might work well if a business owner has just one big product to sell, but Danielle's customers don't need to learn how a baby blanket works! They just want to know what's new in the shop or how they can enter the latest giveaway. If they're on her list, they're already sold on the concept that handmade items for baby are great.
  • Danielle doesn't have a consistent email schedule. She sends a new email when... there's something new! Typically Danielle sends a "what's happening in the shop" email about once a month, and her subscribers also get an email about the latest giveaway at the beginning of each month. But she does suggest that if you're struggling to send consistent emails to your list, make a schedule for yourself and stick with it.

A Unique Way to do Market Research

The Gleam Giveaway App has allowed Danielle to do market research in a unique way. Giveaway entrants can earn an extra entry by answering questions! Danielle says that the answers have been so valuable that they're worth the cost of the giveaway alone even if she didn't gain new subscribers from it.

Danielle has asked entrants, "What's the most important thing you're looking for when you're shopping for baby stuff?" Then she takes those answers to go back and refine her Etsy listings so she's using the terms her ideal customers use to find great products. She found that many people use "safety" when it comes to baby items, but because that word is so obvious, Danielle hadn't used that in her listings. Now she does, and the listings where safety is listed now convert into sales more often!

Danielle also asked what other baby brands the entrants like. She can use those answers to go create new custom audiences to target on Facebook.

"What other blogs or websites do you like?" is another question Danielle has asked. Her awesome Mom is currently compiling that list so that Danielle knows exactly where to advertise her products in 2016 or which bloggers to partner with to do giveaways and reviews. So perfect!

Danielle is using her current audience to find more people like them! Danielle highly recommends that you get ultra-specific when it comes to your ideal customer. Create a persona for her: What does she like? Where does she live? What does she read? Create that imaginary person and talk right to them. Market where they hang out online.

Gleam has given Danielle so much more information to fill in her ideal customer profile and narrow down her marketing.

How to Help your Customer Try on your Product

We absolutely love the ad Danielle used for her Baby Carrier Cover Giveaway. She made a four-part photo illustrating how to use the cover so customers could visualize how it would fit into their lives. Essentially, the carrier cover allows you to take your baby carrier, roll it up and snap it into a storage sack that sits around your waist. You can contain your baby carrier better so you don't have straps dangling all over the place.

Step by Step photos help your customer try on your product and visualize it in their lives

Once people see the product in action, they absolutely love it and can see how it solves a problem! But without the step-by-step photos, it just looks like a random piece of material.

Step-by-step photos can be a great strategy for many kinds of businesses. If it's not super obvious how your product works or if you can catch someone's attention and help them to visualize your product in their lives, that's perfect. Danielle knows that on Facebook people scroll quickly. If your post doesn't catch their eye right away they're gone. Make it clear quickly why something is helpful to someone

We decided that step-by-step photos can be a fun interactive way to present all sorts of products. Even something as simple as a t-shirt can seem more fun when you divide it into steps: Step 1 pull T-shirt out of drawer, Step 2 put T-shirt on, Step 3, be awesome. Isn't that more fun?

Danielle says that this process helps your customer to try on the product in their mind. They start mentally taking ownership of that product and putting it into their life. So they're one step closer to owning it.

Danielle's Awesome iPhone Trick

If you find yourself often typing out long phrases or words like your shop website or email address on your phone, you can create shortcuts with text replacement. Just go into your phone's settings, keyboard, and text replacement.

Danielle has set up her phone so that when she types nnetsy her entire shop URL populates. If she types d@g her entire email address populates. What a great trick for busy moms who are always trying to run their businesses on the go!

Juniper the Comedian!

Danielle's little girl is too funny in this story! Tune in to see how she called out her Dad without saying a word!

Find Danielle Online!

Narranest.Etsy.com
Facebook: NarraNest
Instagram: NarraNest

Direct download: Episode2012720Danielle20Arran_mixdown.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:56am EDT

Such a fun interview with Brit Jennie Brandon. She shared so many great tips on how to use the IF App by If This Then That, and how to make sure you can reach international customers with your site. Great business advice for bloggers and business owners! | brilliantbusinessmoms.com

Are you struggling with balancing too many social media platforms? What about monetizing your site to its fullest extent - so there's a chance to earn something from every single visitor? Jennie Brandon, our very first guest from the UK walks us through loads of great tips on how to use the IF app to leverage our presence on social media. She then goes beyond a handy app to teach us all the ways we can make sure our site is ready for an international audience. (The stats she shares are staggering, so you definitely don't want to ignore this huge demographic who could fall in love with your content!)

On the Podcast

01:26 - Jennie's Two Blogs
03:29 - How Learning Creates Opportunity
06:57 - What is the "IF" App?
11:30 - Build Leverage Across Social Media Platforms
14:38 - How to Start Using IFTTT
20:37 - How to Monetize your Site for International Customers
28:52 - Why your Amazon Affiliate Links Aren't Making you Money
35:25 - How to be Inclusive of an International Audience
47:10 - Jennie's Hilarious Mom Moment

Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to Hear Great Tips from our Favorite Brit, Jennie Brandon

Jennie’s Two Blogs

Jennie lives in Cambridge with her husband of 10 years and two small children Sophie and Joe. She has two blogs, The Errant Sock, and Laundry in the Temple. Laundry in the Temple is where Jennie shares how she teaches her children about her faith and The Errant Sock is a lifestyle blog with parenting hacks, books, and lots of recipes. All of Jennie's friends call her the “slow cooker whisperer” so she shares plenty of tips to help out other mums! Running two blogs and being a mum of 2 means that Jennie has limited time to invest in social media and sharing her content.

How Learning Creates Opportunity

When Jennie first reached out to us it was to share a story of how the Brilliant Business Moms podcast had helped her business and landed her a new job. Years ago, Jennie created her first blog where she focused on slow cooker recipes. Later when she tried to get back into blogging as a way of bringing in more income, she found that the blogging world was very different. In order to get caught up quickly she began listening to the podcast and it was Episode 53, Everything Twitter with Kelli Miller, that made the biggest impact on Jennie's blog and life.

Jennie had never been very comfortable with Twitter before listening to the episode, but by the end of the podcast, she felt ready to give it another try. Jennie dug into Twitter and got 600% more views to her blogs by focusing on the platform!

While Jennie still works on growing her blogs, she knew that she needed to take on a traditional job for now to make ends meet for her family. The podcast helped her with that goal too! A local pastor approached Jennie with a job opportunity, and it was her social media knowledge and web design expertise that set her apart from the other candidates! Jennie's new job lets her use her new skills in social media and website development, and it fits around her schedule and life as mum.

What a great example of how learning creates opportunity!

What is the “IF” App?

IFTTT (If This, Then That - now called the IF App) is an app that allows you to connect other apps and websites to each other for completing an array of different tasks.

Each app, program, or website you can connect is called a channel, and you can create "recipes" between the channels.The title really explains it all: If you do something on one channel, then something else will automatically happen on another channel.

There are hundreds of suggested recipes to help you get started, but almost any way of connecting two apps that you can imagine can be created to make your business and personal life more convenient.

The IF app currently has over 250 different channel options, which include Ebay, Etsy, Twitter, Evernote, Fitbit, Spotify, Feedly, Youtube, Trello, Reddit, and they just recently added Pinterest!

 

Here are a few examples of how the app works: Jennie has set up the IF app so that IF she takes a photo on her android phone, that photo is automatically saved to her Google drive. If she tweets something, that tweet is automatically saved to Evernote. If you leave the office, you could even set up a recipe to turn on your heat if you have a smart heater! There are so many possibilities!

Our heads were spinning when we heard that Pinterest was just recently added: You could automatically pin items that you just added to your etsy store, Pin instagram photos to a board, or Tweet every time you add a pin.

Build Leverage Across Social Media Platforms

In running two blogs Jennie really didn’t have time to devote to social media. She also didn’t have time to be creating new content every single day. Jennie uses the IF App as a way of sharing the content of bloggers that she trusts (as well as her own content) to various social media platforms on a regular basis. This happens automatically without the time and effort it would take to go in and manually schedule content. The IF App lets Jennie have a constant stream of valuable content across all of her feeds in a fraction of the time. In this way, her account always looks active and can engage with her followers. She never loses momentum due to a busy week at home.

Below are some recipes that Jennie uses:

  • If she posts to Facebook, that same posts is shared on Twitter. (and vice versa)
  • If Jennie posts to The Errant Sock, that post is shared on the Laundry in the Temple’s feeds.
  • While TwitterFeed lets Jennie automatically share great content from her favorite bloggers, now with the IF App, those posts will automatically be shared on her Facebook page as well.

Overall, even when Jennie is crazy busy at home and has zero time to post on her blog or social media, she still looks perfectly active and keeps her sites top of mind for her followers by automatically curating great content for them.

For Bloggers who Work with Brands:
If a blogger sends out a tweet for Company X, they can auto-save those tweets (or any posts for that matter) to a spreadsheet. In this way, a blogger working on a large campaign with a brand can show them all the content they produced all in one place without having to hunt for it and manually collect it. In addition, if they work with the same brand every year, they'll have plenty of great content ideas ready to go in their spreadsheet.

There are thousands of possible recipe combinations you can use with the IF App, so be creative and don’t be afraid to play around. They also offer many suggestions for inspiration. And the app is just as useful for your personal life as it is for your business.

How to Start Using IFTTT

Jennie gave us some great tips and an outline of how to get started with IFTTT and make it work best for you and your business!

  1. Make a list of which social media platforms you are currently using.
  2. Prioritize the networks where your target audience hangs out most and where you enjoy connecting with them.
  3. Pull out a pen and paper and create an actual visual map of how you want your content to be shared. Which way do you want the information to go? This will help you make sure that you are creating a complete loop and using the channels to their best ability.
  4. Look at the IF App website and the suggested recipes. What are other bloggers using the app for?
  5. Think about what content from others you want to share. Where will that information be coming from? Consider the entire flow of your content and the content of others and how that all works together to build and reflect your brand.
  6. Start creating recipes! This is a very quick process and in less than 10 minutes Jennie created 8 recipes that form the basis of her IF App and social media strategy.

The Downsides to the IF App:

  • Graphics. When you share graphics keep in mind that each platform shares photos in a different size so some of your photos may appear awkward on certain networks.
  • Characters. The IF App does not count characters so make sure you know about what 140 characters looks like so your shares through to Twitter won't all be truncated.
  • Hashtags. When you share a Twitter post to Facebook it will also copy over your hashtags, this may not be an issue for your particular situation but take this into account.
  • Content Repetition. All of the content that you are sharing will be the same across all channels. Again, for Jennie and many bloggers this may not matter but keep this in mind. For most of us, our readers aren't following us or interacting with us on every single channel, so it's not generally an issue, but you'll have to keep your particular audience in mind.
  • Bonus: The IF App does shorten your links for you.

How to Monetize Internationally

Based on the staggering numbers Jennie shared, it may be in your best interest to consider your international readers and to work to serve them better.

The population in the US is 320 million people. The population of other countries with a similar potential audience (UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, & South Africa) is 190 million people. So these other readers in English-speaking countries with a similar culture could add 60% more potential readers to your site.

With a few tweaks to your content, your site, and the products you offer, you can monetize their visits to your website.

Monetization Ideas for an International Audience:

  • Google Advertising. Since Google display ads are contextual and based on where someone has already visited online, you can easily monetize any visitor's experience on your site. For example, Jennie may visit a UK store to shop for coats. Then, she visits a US-based blog. That same coat will follow her there via a sidebar ad. If she clicks on that ad, the US website gets the commission for that click, even though both Jennie and the store are in the UK.
  • Printables, E-books, and Downloadable Content. Jennie loves buying digital resources from brands she likes since she won't have to worry about shipping prices and she can begin using the product right away.
  • Online Courses. Jennie took a great blogging course from a US blogger. When the courses are self-paced with no set times attached, they work perfectly.
  • Recorded webinars. Webinars can be tricky with the time difference, but a recorded webinar is a great fit for Jennie. (We recently heard Amy Porterfield mention adding recorded webinars to her launch sequence because she had so many international customers requesting this.)
  • Membership sites. Jennie can interact in the forums on her time and consume the content on her time.
  • Services. There's no reason why a blog designer, marketing consultant, or other service-based business owners couldn't work with clients overseas. They could greatly expand their customer base if they started targeting these audiences - and they might face less competition too!
  • Affiliate Marketing. If you're marketing an internationally-available product, or a digital product, program, or course, you can market to everyone! Jennie has bought an Ultimate Bundle before through an American Blogger.
  • Selling on Etsy. Etsy makes things easy by automatically doing all the currency exchange and tax calculations for international sellers and buyers.

Hopefully this gets you thinking about all the ways you can monetize your site to a wider audience. We all know digital products can be great for business, but if you've delayed creating them thus far, maybe knowing you could attract 60% more potential customers will be just the thing to get you started!

Why Your Amazon Affiliate Links Aren’t Making You Money

Did you know that if someone from the UK clicks on an Amazon affiliate link from your website you do not get a commission? Shoppers in the UK cannot order from Amazon.com; they have to order through AmazonUK. But there is a way to fix this and ensure you're earning a commission from your international readers.

  1. Sign up for each country's affiliate program through Amazon. Get more information from Amazon right here.
  2. Install the Amazon Link Engine Plugin on your Wordpress site. This plugin ensures that each visitor is sent to the relevant Amazon site for them.
  3. Create an account with Genius links. This program ensures that you are getting paid from those other countries’ links. The program is free up to 1,000 clicks/month then $10 per every 10,000 clicks after that.
  4. Build your affiliate link just as you did before, and the intelligent link will send each visitor to the correct Amazon site.

Note: Amazon says that if over 10% of your traffic is from other Amazon countries, this process should be worth it for you - particularly if you get a large volume of traffic to your site, or you already do well by being an Amazon affiliate.

How to Be Inclusive of an International Audience

One of the best parts of having our first podcast guest from the UK is that Jennie was happy to share many ways that US bloggers and business owners can be more inclusive of international readers. Below are some simple ideas to cross different cultures with your brand.

  • Be more inclusive in your language. For example, instead of saying “since next week is Thanksgiving” you could say “here in the US, we have Thanksgiving”.
  • Show awareness that things happen at different times overseas. For example, in the UK back to school time is later in the year and summer vacation doesn’t start until late July.
  • Not all trends go at the same speed in all countries. In the UK, online shopping has been a normal part of life for many years. Since they are a small country their postal service is very efficient and it is convenient to shop online and has been for over a decade!
  • Don't use brand names, but describe the products as other countries often have different brands. For example, in a recipe instead of saying “can of Rotel”, say “can of diced tomatoes with chilies”. In the UK, Scotch tape is actually referred to as cello tape.
  • Don't say "a package" or some other generic term. Use specific measurements to an international audience can still follow the recipe accurately.

Jennie sent over some other notes and thoughts, and I really liked what she had to say here to sum things up:

Be aware that we may have some different challenges and concerns. e.g. Brits have less disposable income and live in smaller houses because land is very precious here. We drive less because fuel is very expensive and driving is more stressful. Over half of us don't have a dryer for laundry, often because we don't have the space. We're also increasingly environmentally friendly and a post that suggests waste may hit a nerve.

But please don't feel sorry for us! We wonder how you manage without universal healthcare, how you cope with tornadoes and blizzards, how you manage with so little annual leave (we typically get at least 4 weeks, not 2 plus 8 national holidays) and how you can consider anything over 2 hours not being a really long drive!

(That last line really made me chuckle as Holden and I used to drive from South Carolina to Pittsburgh for an 11-hour day, and I didn't think that was "too long of a drive" :) It's so fun learning about other cultures!

jennie-brandon-uk-blogger-if-app-family
Jennie with her adorable family.

Jennie's Hilarious Mum Moment

Jennie's daughter Sophie's spirit of determination is so adorable in this story! You'll have to listen to the podcast to hear all about it!

Find Jennie Online

LaundryintheTemple.com
TheErrantSock.com

Direct download: Episode2012620Jennie20Brandon20final202.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:18am EDT

What a great interview! Cindy Funk has made over 6,000 sales on Etsy in a super unique vintage niche. She's always testing and tweaking, so it was great to hear what she's doing with promoted listings, and how she keeps her customers coming back. How to get sales on Etsy. Vintage Etsy Seller Advice. | brilliantbusinessmoms.com

Have you ever wondered what the magic formula is for making it big on Etsy? Here's the thing: that magic formula involves a lot of working pieces all combining together to make for excellent products, incredible customer service, and a business that succeeds. Cindy Funk has been selling adorable vintage tea towels on Etsy for several years, and with over 6,000 sales, she knows a thing or two about that magic formula.

Learn from Cindy and discover all the pieces you can bring together to create your own magic formula for success. You got this!

On the Podcast:

01:11 - What Martha Stewart and Cindy Funk have in Common

05:09 - Where Can You Find Mint Condition Vintage Items?

08:38 - Why Cindy Doesn't Cast a Wide Net

10:48 - Cindy's Fascinating Customers

13:45 - Why Cindy's Branding is "Anti-Etsy"

18:00 - Etsy SEO + Promoted Listings

26:08 - Inventory Management

28:11 - If I Could Turn Back Tiiiiiiime!

35:23 - Cindy's Wins

39:05 - 3 Tips for Making it on Etsy Long-Term

40:39 - We're Here, We're... a Little Different! And We're Not Going Anywhere!

43:00 - Cindy's Hilarious Mom Moment

What Martha Stewart and Cindy Funk have in Common

Cindy's business began as a long-time hobby first. She has been collecting vintage linens for years since her father passed away. She became interested in them because of the nostalgia and memories they carried. After collecting so many, she realized that her home was being taken over by linens ,and something needed to change! Cindy started looking for ways to sell her linens. At first, she signed up for a booth in an antiques mall, but the mall closed down before she was able to sell anything.

So what do Martha Stewart and Cindy Funk have in common? They both love Etsy! And they both discovered it around the same time! Not long after her antiques mall attempt, Cindy was watching an episode of Martha Stewart and saw one of the founders of Etsy being interviewed. After learning that Etsy sold vintage items in addition to handmade, she signed up in 2009 and began listing her first items in 2010. It didn’t take long for Cindy to realize that Etsy was a great platform for her vintage tea towels! They started selling pretty quickly on the site. In 2011 Cindy set a goal to sell 100 items, that year. Instead, she sold 1000 items! From that point on, she started looking at her Etsy shop as a real business.

Where Can You Find Mint Condition Vintage Items?

It turns out... all over the place! Cindy hunts far and wide for just the right vintage linens to add to her shop. Since she focuses on items that are in mint condition, it can be quite tricky for her to keep her shop inventory at the 250-item level that she prefers.

Here's a list of all the places Cindy has found Vintage Linens:

  • Garage sales
  • Yard Sales
  • Church Sales
  • Antique Fairs
  • Flea Markets
  • Church Sales
  • Antique Malls
  • Thrift Shops
  • Estate Sales
  • E-bay
  • Online Stores
  • Her Mailman! (He's very interested in antiques but not linens, so when he runs across them in his hunts, he saves them for Cindy.)

Cindy dedicates one day a week to scouting vintage items. She picks one town that's within driving distance to her home in Central Illionois and goes shopping! There's a flea market once a month about an hour away, so she tries to attend that on a regular basis. And she also hunts online.

Cindy has great relationships with several antique dealers. They have her card and give her a call when something of interest comes in. As an experienced seller who likes to keep her inventory high, it's in their advantage to call someone who may make a large purchase all at once.

Why Cindy Doesn't Cast a Wide Net

Once upon a time, Cindy thought she could grow her business by offering a wider variety of items. She branched out to vintage collectibles and spent about 6 months buying up inventory. She had 500 items in her shop! Cindy thought that new customers would find those collectibles, head to her shop, and buy other items while they were there. That didn't really happen! They just bought their one collectible item and left. Cindy also felt overwhelmed and her office space was taken over by collectibles. She has slowly sold off those items and focused on vintage linens and becoming well-known in that niche.

Cindy is seen as an expert when it comes to vintage tea towels. Other sellers and collectors turn to her for advice. She recommends that all Etsy sellers try tospecialize in something specific. By focusing on one main item, Cindy is able to better help her customers with her knowledge and experience. In addition, Cindy has a large base of repeat customers. She's developed great friendships over the years because she and her customers share the same interest and passions - they love vintage tea towels!

(Want to establish yourself as an expert in your field? See our tips right here.)

Cindy's Fascinating Customers

With such a specific niche, Cindy has had quite a lot of interesting customers through the years! She's sold to celebrities, museums, and prop masters for movies!

Cindy says the prop masters always crack her up, because they need their items yesterday! Recently, a prop master purchased a vintage paper tablecloth from her for $6 but paid $60 to have it shipped overnight to Canada!

Her products have even been purchased for a movie that starred Ben Affleck, but Cindy hasn't watched the movie yet to see if her items appeared in the set. And she's almost positive that one of her vintage tablecloths was featured in "The Help" but she can't be sure since the purchaser didn't mention anything at the time.

Cindy has one celebrity customer who has reordered from her 3 times, but she's too respectful of that person to fill us in on who it is!

Finally, Cindy's items can be found in museums. Sarah brought up a great point: Cindy clearly has an excellent product if museums are coming to her for items to feature in their displays!

(Now I'm off to see what old-school movies Ben Affleck has starred in - in the past 5 years!)

Why Cindy's Branding is "Anti-Etsy"

The general vibe on Etsy tends to be clean, bright, simple designs, with plenty of white space in photos to give a sense of calm. Cindy's branding is staunchly "Anti-Etsy" as she calls it! Her quirky, fun vintage tea towels just don't lend themselves to this vibe. Her shop is full of colors, patterns, and scenes, and this works for her. All of the pieces in her shop help support the main theme of the products which are (just like her tagline says) vintage with graphic appeal.

The Close-Up:

Unlike many Etsy sellers, Cindy has opted to do something different with her cover photo. Instead of using an image of the entire product, she starts with a close-up of the linen so you can see the details and quality of the item. This allows her customers to see exactly what they will be getting and to fall in love with the patterns and scenes found on her items.

As with all aspects of her Etsy shop, Cindy experiments with her photography. She found that if she zoomed out to show the whole linen, it was harder to see the graphics that are truly the cornerstone of each item. A zoomed out photo just looks like any other piece of cloth.

The Routine:

Cindy doesn't have a designated photography day each week. Instead, she tries to list 3-5 items, 4-5 days out of every week. She takes photos of just those items, edits them, uploads them to Etsy and fills out her listing. When she's done, Cindy has created several new listings from start to finish. Cindy says she loves to time-block so she sets aside time each day for capturing and creating her new listings. (We love time-blocking too!)

Etsy SEO + Promoted Listings

Cindy uses several tactics to help her items get found more often on Etsy:

  • Constantly list new items. Cindy lists several new items most days of the week.
  • Renew listings. On days when Cindy doesn't have a new item to list, she renews several listings.
  • Improve both recency and relevancy. By always having very recently listed items in her shop, Cindy not only shows up more in the "recency" search feature on Etsy, but recency is also factor that helps determine a listing's position within relevancy search on Etsy. (Relevancy is currently the default search setting - so Etsy will show the items that have the best chance of being exactly what the searcher is looking for.) What this means in simplified terms: If two listings have the same keywords in them, the more recently listed item will rank higher on Etsy search. (Note: this is a very simplified view of things for the sake of teaching!)
  • Check keyword stats. Cindy checks her stats often to see which keywords bring her the most traffic.
  • Tweak constantly. Cindy uses her stats knowledge to constantly tweak keywords in her tags and titles.
  • Experiment often. Cindy experiments with other details in her listings - such as placing items in different categories or testing out different photos.
  • Use promoted listings. Cindy started testing promoted listings a few months ago, and she's found them really helpful. They show her which keywords people respond to most often, and she gets more views and favorites in her shop.
  • Cindy's promoted listing strategy: She sets her max daily budget high, her bids mostly on "auto", only chooses a handful of listings to promote at a time, and ups her bid for her most expensive items where her cost per customer acquisition can be higher.

Quick Tips on Promoted Listings from Beth Anne

There are several factors that determine how well your promoted listing will do:

1.) Competition from other listings. If there's way too much competition, your items may not get shown very often, and that means they won't get clicks or sales. You can up your bid to counteract this competition, but at a certain point that bid per click just becomes way too expensive to be profitable in the long run. If you find this happening to your promoted listing, move on and promote something else!

In Cindy's case, she has a niche product that likely faces little competition. This is great for her! She can promote away without having to bid an extremely high amount per click.

2.) Your listing's profitability to Etsy. If you're selling a more expensive item, chances are good that Etsy will choose to show your item over other promoted items in your niche. They stand to make a larger commission when your item sells. (Etsy cares just as much about making as you do!) But the price of your item isn't the only thing that determines how profitable it will be for Etsy. It has to sell to be profitable! So if your conversion rate is high (the number of sales divided by the number of clicks) Etsy will likely show your item more often. They know your item sells well, so they'll keep on showing it. (You should also know that conversion rate matters a great deal for getting found in unpaid Etsy search as well. If your item doesn't sell well, Etsy will push it to the back.)

For reference: A typical conversion rate for an online store is 2%, or 2 sales per every 100 visitors/clicks to the shop. A great conversion rate is about 5%. A conversion rate that could use improvement is 1% or lower.

I generally aim for a 1% conversion rate if I'm doing paid advertising. And in our case, that means I can afford to pay 10 cents per click, or $10 total to acquire a customer for our Brilliant Business Planner. That keeps us profitable. So if I find that I'm bidding way more than 10 cents per click in promoted listings, unless my conversion rate skyrockets, I'd better lower that bid or find a new listing to promote!

For reference, our planner listing conversion rates vary greatly depending on the keywords we use to attract customers. We get anywhere from 0% to 5% conversion rates on our promoted listings. (Yeah... that 5% conversion rate... you better believe I'll be promoting that til I'm blue in the face!)

Inventory Management

With over 200 items for sale in her shop, Cindy has to keep her inventory very well organized. She's had bad experiences in the past when this wasn't the case. Then, an order is placed and she's scrambling and panicked - "where did that towel go?!"

Now, Cindy uses plastic containers with drawers to keep everything sorted and folded. She separates her items by type - tea towels, table cloths, and plastic tablecloths. Then Cindy stores her collectibles in wooden cubbies. She says that even when her workspace isn't neat, her inventory always is!

If I Could Turn Back Tiiiiime!

One of the best things about talking with a seasoned Etsy seller is learning what she'd do differently if she could do it all again. Cindy would love to pull a "Cher" and do these things differently if she could turn back time.

  • Build an email list. Collect the email addresses of your customers right from the get-go. Build those relationships by sending out emails on a regular basis. Your email list is the perfect place to let your die-hard fans know about new additions to the shop, sales, and great tips or content in your niche. (Learn more about email marketing here.)
  • Put your email sign-up link everywhere. Cindy now has a link to her email list sign-up on her About Page, Profile Page, her Thank you Note after a sale on Etsy, and anywhere else she can think to put it! Even though those are dead links, she is slowly but surely collecting email addresses because people who are interested in what you have to offer don't mind copying and pasting that link. (See our episode with Sarah Gilcher for more proof on that one!)
  • Create your own website. Cindy just now reserved her domain name and plans to have a "home base" soon. Even if you don't plan to sell on your own site, it's a great place to put your email sign-up form and let others know a little more about you. Having a home base online is always a good idea!
  • Put yourself out there and get your products featured. Cindy plans to do more active promoting of her shop this year. She'll write guest posts and submit her items for product features on large sites. Again, you don't have to have your own site to make guest posting or promoting work for you. Link to an email opt-in form or your Etsy shop. Don't let anything hold you back from marketing your business.

Cindy’s Wins

Cindy has done so many things right when it comes to growing her Etsy shop. Below are a few of her wins!

  • Sell High-quality products. Cindy offers the best possible product that she can find.
  • Provide Excellent communication. Cindy writes a thank you note to everyone who makes a purchase from her. She lets them know how much she appreciates their purchase, that she'll be shipping their item soon, and she hopes they'll come back to visit her shop again!
  • Stay in touch with customers. Cindy has some customers who are looking for particular items, and she makes a point to reach out to them when she finds what they're looking for.
  • Ship quickly. Cindy is neurotic about shipping, and almost always ships each order the very next day.
  • Use Coupon codes. Cindy includes a coupon code with each purchase, and she's had many repeat customers who use this code.
  • Participate in Teams. Cindy is a member of about 20 teams on Etsy. Members can trade tips, advice, and offer encouragement to each other.
  • Learn as much about SEO as you can. Cindy is always testing and tweaking! We are too.

3 Tips for Making it on Etsy Long-Term

  1. Your shop is a work in progress. You're never "done". There is always more to test, tweak, and of course, new changes from Etsy to figure out.
  2. Be persistent. Every business has its ups and downs. Cindy remembers weeks where she had zero sales, and she wondered if she'd dropped off the face of the planet! But she kept with it and the sales always come back. There are busy seasons and slow seasons. This is the beast that is retail.
  3. Learn as much as you can. Cindy never stops learning about business or selling on Etsy. She enjoys listening to podcasts like ours for what she calls "little golden nuggets". Whether an episode directly relates to selling on Etsy or not, there's always a business nugget to find. (We agree! And we're always learning from others too!)

We're Here! We're... a little Different! And We're Not Going Anywhere!

Etsy is known for being a handmade marketplace and Cindy has found that sometimes the vintage sellers get ignored. For example, when Etsy went public, there was no mention of the vintage and supplies side of things the marketplace. The press tends to describe Etsy simply as "a handmade marketplace" so many vintage lovers don't even know they can go there to find great treasures.

To combat this focus, Cindy wants vintage Etsy sellers to support each other, and she makes an effort to help promote others in her field. As these vintage shops and sellers work together, the community can grow and create more of a voice for vintage sellers on Etsy.

Cindy also lets Etsy know how much she appreciates it when she sees them feature a Vintage item in their finds. Essentially, she keeps letting them know that "she's here!" and not to forget about this wonderful side of Etsy.

Cindy's Hilarious Mom Moment

You'll have to tune in to hear about "The Great Cheese Incident." Too funny!

Find Cindy Online!

Shop: NeatoKeen.Etsy.com (Check it out! Her items are adorable and so unique!)
Facebook: Neatokeen.etsy
Instagram: Neatokeen2

What a great interview! Cindy Funk has made over 6,000 sales on Etsy in a super unique vintage niche. She's always testing and tweaking, so it was great to hear what she's doing with promoted listings, and how she keeps her customers coming back. How to get sales on Etsy. Vintage Etsy Seller Advice. | brilliantbusinessmoms.com

Have you ever wondered what the magic formula is for making it big on Etsy? Here's the thing: that magic formula involves a lot of working pieces all combining together to make for excellent products, incredible customer service, and a business that succeeds. Cindy Funk has been selling adorable vintage tea towels on Etsy for several years, and with over 6,000 sales, she knows a thing or two about that magic formula.

Learn from Cindy and discover all the pieces you can bring together to create your own magic formula for success. You got this!

On the Podcast:

01:11 - What Martha Stewart and Cindy Funk have in Common

05:09 - Where Can You Find Mint Condition Vintage Items?

08:38 - Why Cindy Doesn't Cast a Wide Net

10:48 - Cindy's Fascinating Customers

13:45 - Why Cindy's Branding is "Anti-Etsy"

18:00 - Etsy SEO + Promoted Listings

26:08 - Inventory Management

28:11 - If I Could Turn Back Tiiiiiiime!

35:23 - Cindy's Wins

39:05 - 3 Tips for Making it on Etsy Long-Term

40:39 - We're Here, We're... a Little Different! And We're Not Going Anywhere!

43:00 - Cindy's Hilarious Mom Moment

What Martha Stewart and Cindy Funk have in Common

Cindy's business began as a long-time hobby first. She has been collecting vintage linens for years since her father passed away. She became interested in them because of the nostalgia and memories they carried. After collecting so many, she realized that her home was being taken over by linens ,and something needed to change! Cindy started looking for ways to sell her linens. At first, she signed up for a booth in an antiques mall, but the mall closed down before she was able to sell anything.

So what do Martha Stewart and Cindy Funk have in common? They both love Etsy! And they both discovered it around the same time! Not long after her antiques mall attempt, Cindy was watching an episode of Martha Stewart and saw one of the founders of Etsy being interviewed. After learning that Etsy sold vintage items in addition to handmade, she signed up in 2009 and began listing her first items in 2010. It didn’t take long for Cindy to realize that Etsy was a great platform for her vintage tea towels! They started selling pretty quickly on the site. In 2011 Cindy set a goal to sell 100 items, that year. Instead, she sold 1000 items! From that point on, she started looking at her Etsy shop as a real business.

Where Can You Find Mint Condition Vintage Items?

It turns out... all over the place! Cindy hunts far and wide for just the right vintage linens to add to her shop. Since she focuses on items that are in mint condition, it can be quite tricky for her to keep her shop inventory at the 250-item level that she prefers.

Here's a list of all the places Cindy has found Vintage Linens:

  • Garage sales
  • Yard Sales
  • Church Sales
  • Antique Fairs
  • Flea Markets
  • Church Sales
  • Antique Malls
  • Thrift Shops
  • Estate Sales
  • E-bay
  • Online Stores
  • Her Mailman! (He's very interested in antiques but not linens, so when he runs across them in his hunts, he saves them for Cindy.)

Cindy dedicates one day a week to scouting vintage items. She picks one town that's within driving distance to her home in Central Illionois and goes shopping! There's a flea market once a month about an hour away, so she tries to attend that on a regular basis. And she also hunts online.

Cindy has great relationships with several antique dealers. They have her card and give her a call when something of interest comes in. As an experienced seller who likes to keep her inventory high, it's in their advantage to call someone who may make a large purchase all at once.

Why Cindy Doesn't Cast a Wide Net

Once upon a time, Cindy thought she could grow her business by offering a wider variety of items. She branched out to vintage collectibles and spent about 6 months buying up inventory. She had 500 items in her shop! Cindy thought that new customers would find those collectibles, head to her shop, and buy other items while they were there. That didn't really happen! They just bought their one collectible item and left. Cindy also felt overwhelmed and her office space was taken over by collectibles. She has slowly sold off those items and focused on vintage linens and becoming well-known in that niche.

Cindy is seen as an expert when it comes to vintage tea towels. Other sellers and collectors turn to her for advice. She recommends that all Etsy sellers try tospecialize in something specific. By focusing on one main item, Cindy is able to better help her customers with her knowledge and experience. In addition, Cindy has a large base of repeat customers. She's developed great friendships over the years because she and her customers share the same interest and passions - they love vintage tea towels!

(Want to establish yourself as an expert in your field? See our tips right here.)

Cindy's Fascinating Customers

With such a specific niche, Cindy has had quite a lot of interesting customers through the years! She's sold to celebrities, museums, and prop masters for movies!

Cindy says the prop masters always crack her up, because they need their items yesterday! Recently, a prop master purchased a vintage paper tablecloth from her for $6 but paid $60 to have it shipped overnight to Canada!

Her products have even been purchased for a movie that starred Ben Affleck, but Cindy hasn't watched the movie yet to see if her items appeared in the set. And she's almost positive that one of her vintage tablecloths was featured in "The Help" but she can't be sure since the purchaser didn't mention anything at the time.

Cindy has one celebrity customer who has reordered from her 3 times, but she's too respectful of that person to fill us in on who it is!

Finally, Cindy's items can be found in museums. Sarah brought up a great point: Cindy clearly has an excellent product if museums are coming to her for items to feature in their displays!

(Now I'm off to see what old-school movies Ben Affleck has starred in - in the past 5 years!)

Why Cindy's Branding is "Anti-Etsy"

The general vibe on Etsy tends to be clean, bright, simple designs, with plenty of white space in photos to give a sense of calm. Cindy's branding is staunchly "Anti-Etsy" as she calls it! Her quirky, fun vintage tea towels just don't lend themselves to this vibe. Her shop is full of colors, patterns, and scenes, and this works for her. All of the pieces in her shop help support the main theme of the products which are (just like her tagline says) vintage with graphic appeal.

The Close-Up:

Unlike many Etsy sellers, Cindy has opted to do something different with her cover photo. Instead of using an image of the entire product, she starts with a close-up of the linen so you can see the details and quality of the item. This allows her customers to see exactly what they will be getting and to fall in love with the patterns and scenes found on her items.

As with all aspects of her Etsy shop, Cindy experiments with her photography. She found that if she zoomed out to show the whole linen, it was harder to see the graphics that are truly the cornerstone of each item. A zoomed out photo just looks like any other piece of cloth.

The Routine:

Cindy doesn't have a designated photography day each week. Instead, she tries to list 3-5 items, 4-5 days out of every week. She takes photos of just those items, edits them, uploads them to Etsy and fills out her listing. When she's done, Cindy has created several new listings from start to finish. Cindy says she loves to time-block so she sets aside time each day for capturing and creating her new listings. (We love time-blocking too!)

Etsy SEO + Promoted Listings

Cindy uses several tactics to help her items get found more often on Etsy:

  • Constantly list new items. Cindy lists several new items most days of the week.
  • Renew listings. On days when Cindy doesn't have a new item to list, she renews several listings.
  • Improve both recency and relevancy. By always having very recently listed items in her shop, Cindy not only shows up more in the "recency" search feature on Etsy, but recency is also factor that helps determine a listing's position within relevancy search on Etsy. (Relevancy is currently the default search setting - so Etsy will show the items that have the best chance of being exactly what the searcher is looking for.) What this means in simplified terms: If two listings have the same keywords in them, the more recently listed item will rank higher on Etsy search. (Note: this is a very simplified view of things for the sake of teaching!)
  • Check keyword stats. Cindy checks her stats often to see which keywords bring her the most traffic.
  • Tweak constantly. Cindy uses her stats knowledge to constantly tweak keywords in her tags and titles.
  • Experiment often. Cindy experiments with other details in her listings - such as placing items in different categories or testing out different photos.
  • Use promoted listings. Cindy started testing promoted listings a few months ago, and she's found them really helpful. They show her which keywords people respond to most often, and she gets more views and favorites in her shop.
  • Cindy's promoted listing strategy: She sets her max daily budget high, her bids mostly on "auto", only chooses a handful of listings to promote at a time, and ups her bid for her most expensive items where her cost per customer acquisition can be higher.

Quick Tips on Promoted Listings from Beth Anne

There are several factors that determine how well your promoted listing will do:

1.) Competition from other listings. If there's way too much competition, your items may not get shown very often, and that means they won't get clicks or sales. You can up your bid to counteract this competition, but at a certain point that bid per click just becomes way too expensive to be profitable in the long run. If you find this happening to your promoted listing, move on and promote something else!

In Cindy's case, she has a niche product that likely faces little competition. This is great for her! She can promote away without having to bid an extremely high amount per click.

2.) Your listing's profitability to Etsy. If you're selling a more expensive item, chances are good that Etsy will choose to show your item over other promoted items in your niche. They stand to make a larger commission when your item sells. (Etsy cares just as much about making as you do!) But the price of your item isn't the only thing that determines how profitable it will be for Etsy. It has to sell to be profitable! So if your conversion rate is high (the number of sales divided by the number of clicks) Etsy will likely show your item more often. They know your item sells well, so they'll keep on showing it. (You should also know that conversion rate matters a great deal for getting found in unpaid Etsy search as well. If your item doesn't sell well, Etsy will push it to the back.)

For reference: A typical conversion rate for an online store is 2%, or 2 sales per every 100 visitors/clicks to the shop. A great conversion rate is about 5%. A conversion rate that could use improvement is 1% or lower.

I generally aim for a 1% conversion rate if I'm doing paid advertising. And in our case, that means I can afford to pay 10 cents per click, or $10 total to acquire a customer for our Brilliant Business Planner. That keeps us profitable. So if I find that I'm bidding way more than 10 cents per click in promoted listings, unless my conversion rate skyrockets, I'd better lower that bid or find a new listing to promote!

For reference, our planner listing conversion rates vary greatly depending on the keywords we use to attract customers. We get anywhere from 0% to 5% conversion rates on our promoted listings. (Yeah... that 5% conversion rate... you better believe I'll be promoting that til I'm blue in the face!)

Inventory Management

With over 200 items for sale in her shop, Cindy has to keep her inventory very well organized. She's had bad experiences in the past when this wasn't the case. Then, an order is placed and she's scrambling and panicked - "where did that towel go?!"

Now, Cindy uses plastic containers with drawers to keep everything sorted and folded. She separates her items by type - tea towels, table cloths, and plastic tablecloths. Then Cindy stores her collectibles in wooden cubbies. She says that even when her workspace isn't neat, her inventory always is!

If I Could Turn Back Tiiiiime!

One of the best things about talking with a seasoned Etsy seller is learning what she'd do differently if she could do it all again. Cindy would love to pull a "Cher" and do these things differently if she could turn back time.

  • Build an email list. Collect the email addresses of your customers right from the get-go. Build those relationships by sending out emails on a regular basis. Your email list is the perfect place to let your die-hard fans know about new additions to the shop, sales, and great tips or content in your niche. (Learn more about email marketing here.)
  • Put your email sign-up link everywhere. Cindy now has a link to her email list sign-up on her About Page, Profile Page, her Thank you Note after a sale on Etsy, and anywhere else she can think to put it! Even though those are dead links, she is slowly but surely collecting email addresses because people who are interested in what you have to offer don't mind copying and pasting that link. (See our episode with Sarah Gilcher for more proof on that one!)
  • Create your own website. Cindy just now reserved her domain name and plans to have a "home base" soon. Even if you don't plan to sell on your own site, it's a great place to put your email sign-up form and let others know a little more about you. Having a home base online is always a good idea!
  • Put yourself out there and get your products featured. Cindy plans to do more active promoting of her shop this year. She'll write guest posts and submit her items for product features on large sites. Again, you don't have to have your own site to make guest posting or promoting work for you. Link to an email opt-in form or your Etsy shop. Don't let anything hold you back from marketing your business.

Cindy’s Wins

Cindy has done so many things right when it comes to growing her Etsy shop. Below are a few of her wins!

  • Sell High-quality products. Cindy offers the best possible product that she can find.
  • Provide Excellent communication. Cindy writes a thank you note to everyone who makes a purchase from her. She lets them know how much she appreciates their purchase, that she'll be shipping their item soon, and she hopes they'll come back to visit her shop again!
  • Stay in touch with customers. Cindy has some customers who are looking for particular items, and she makes a point to reach out to them when she finds what they're looking for.
  • Ship quickly. Cindy is neurotic about shipping, and almost always ships each order the very next day.
  • Use Coupon codes. Cindy includes a coupon code with each purchase, and she's had many repeat customers who use this code.
  • Participate in Teams. Cindy is a member of about 20 teams on Etsy. Members can trade tips, advice, and offer encouragement to each other.
  • Learn as much about SEO as you can. Cindy is always testing and tweaking! We are too.

3 Tips for Making it on Etsy Long-Term

  1. Your shop is a work in progress. You're never "done". There is always more to test, tweak, and of course, new changes from Etsy to figure out.
  2. Be persistent. Every business has its ups and downs. Cindy remembers weeks where she had zero sales, and she wondered if she'd dropped off the face of the planet! But she kept with it and the sales always come back. There are busy seasons and slow seasons. This is the beast that is retail.
  3. Learn as much as you can. Cindy never stops learning about business or selling on Etsy. She enjoys listening to podcasts like ours for what she calls "little golden nuggets". Whether an episode directly relates to selling on Etsy or not, there's always a business nugget to find. (We agree! And we're always learning from others too!)

We're Here! We're... a little Different! And We're Not Going Anywhere!

Etsy is known for being a handmade marketplace and Cindy has found that sometimes the vintage sellers get ignored. For example, when Etsy went public, there was no mention of the vintage and supplies side of things the marketplace. The press tends to describe Etsy simply as "a handmade marketplace" so many vintage lovers don't even know they can go there to find great treasures.

To combat this focus, Cindy wants vintage Etsy sellers to support each other, and she makes an effort to help promote others in her field. As these vintage shops and sellers work together, the community can grow and create more of a voice for vintage sellers on Etsy.

Cindy also lets Etsy know how much she appreciates it when she sees them feature a Vintage item in their finds. Essentially, she keeps letting them know that "she's here!" and not to forget about this wonderful side of Etsy.

Cindy's Hilarious Mom Moment

You'll have to tune in to hear about "The Great Cheese Incident." Too funny!

Find Cindy Online!

Shop: NeatoKeen.Etsy.com (Check it out! Her items are adorable and so unique!)
Facebook: Neatokeen.etsy
Instagram: Neatokeen2

Direct download: Episode2012520Cindy20Funk_mixdown.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:07am EDT

Such a fun conversation with a NICU nurse who is using her expertise to grow a product-based business that solves problems for NICU families. Build a business by being an expert. Yes! | brilliantbusinessmoms.com

Today we're chatting with Jescalyn of Love Lila Ann on Etsy. This episode was originally a business brainstorming session that we did on Blab. So please forgive some of the sound issues we had! Overall, though, we had such a great chat with Jescalyn, and what makes her business unique is that she's an expert in her field.

Jescalyn has been a NICU nurse for several years, and she saw the struggles that NICU parents face each day. She wanted to create products that would solve their problems and make them feel more at home in the NICU. While she initially developed a onesie that would work with IV's and other tubing, Jescalyn quickly discovered that it would take a huge order from China or an enormous expense for each product to manufacture her onesies in the states.

Jescalyn switched gears and solved another problem for NICU parents - it's really difficult for them to personalize their baby's space. Jescalyn designed brilliant fitted sheets that serve double duty by working as a changing pad cover, as well as fitting on any of the 3 mattress sizes used in the NICU. She did this by using a cord lock system at the corners of each sheet. How brilliant is that?!

Jescalyn also created a fitted sheet that works on a typical crib mattress as well as a pediatric hospital mattress, and she's working on developmental toys for infants who spend months in the NICU and need more stimulation.

What we Love about Jescalyn's Business

  • It solves a real problem. There are so many beautiful products and shops to choose from on Etsy, but if you can pair something beautiful with something functional, you've hit gold. So many parents would love to have custom-fitted mattress covers or other products that serve a need while they are in the NICU.
  • It's unique. Jescalyn's invention for versatile fitted sheets is so clever!
  • It's beautiful. We mentioned this above, but it doesn't hurt that Jescalyn chooses gorgeous fabrics and patterns.
  • It has great photos. This is one of the biggest problems we see with new Etsy shops - the photography is distracting, poorly done, and grainy. Jescalyn has beautiful, bright, clean photos.  She's off to a great start!
  • She's an expert. Jescalyn is an expert in the area her business will serve: NICU babies and their families. She's worked as a NICU nurse for several years, and she sees the problems and struggles these babies and families face day in and day out. Being an expert on a topic is an amazing way to grow your business!
Brilliant Idea - Custom Fitted Crib sheets that will work on multiple sizes - so one works for a mattress pad and for NICU mattresses This NICU Nurse is genius!
Jescalyn with her daughters. And her gorgeous fitted sheets on the right!

 

How to Position Yourself as an Expert

  • Step 1: Trust in your abilities! Jescalyn had a difficult time thinking of herself as a NICU expert, but she truly is!  She's spent years working one-on-one with patients and families. She's honed her craft as a nurse, and even more importantly, she's listened and cared for families. She knows the struggles they face and how best to comfort them and encourage them. Sometimes it takes someone else affirming that you're an expert for you to really believe it and take ownership of it.
  • Step 2: Write about your topic any chance that you can! With Jescalyn's background as a NICU nurse, we suggested that she skip ahead a few places in line and submit guest posts to large parenting sites such as Baby Center, Babble, or Parenting. Jescalyn has the expertise to write intelligently on topics that other guest bloggers can't. While some larger sites might require a writing sample, others are so eager for new content that they may not. Jescalyn will never know unless she tries!
  • Step 3: Set up an email list with MailChimp. It's free for your first 2,000 subscribers. Customize your own little opt-in form (here's ours, as an example) and share that link everywhere. Jescalyn can use that link in each listing description, on her about page, and every time she guest posts or is featured somewhere.
  • Step 4: Create a killer email opt-in. For Jescalyn, this could be a short guide to the NICU for parents, a checklist, a cheat sheet, a list of great resources for them, or perhaps even a guide on how to care for a friend who's just become a NICU parent.
  • Step 5: Guest post on Mommy blogs, but with a more general focus there. Jescalyn could write about how to care for your friend whose baby is in the NICU.  She could share great gifts or items a friend in that situation might need.
  • Step 6: Write a book! Jescalyn initially thought that she'd create a book full of her and other NICU nurses' wisdom and offer that as her email list freebie. We thought she should go bigger! Even a small e-book, if it's full of helpful information, can do well on Amazon. We checked out the current offerings, and there's not much there for NICU parents. Most of the content is geared towards healthcare professionals.
  • Step 7: Market yourself on Social Media. Pinterest and Instagram are great visual platforms. On Instagram, Jescalyn can use the right hashtags such as #nicu #nicugrad or #nicubaby, along with connecting with moms-to-be who are in the process of getting their nursery ready. Instagram makes it fairly easy to meet new people and build relationships. Connect with parents in private Facebook groups. Answer questions and lend support and the marketing will happen on its own.
  • Step 8: Foster relationships with your email list and your social media followers by staying in touch! Share encouragement. Share quick tips. Be that voice of wisdom and care in the midst of an incredibly stressful situation.
  • Step 9: Add more support to NICU families by adding more products. Jescalyn would still like to work on creating onesies that work around the cords and wires in the NICU. She's also working on toys that would promote premature infants' development.
  • Step 10: Partner with other business owners and influencers to create an all-in-one package - similar to Freshly Picked's Newborn Bundles. Again, this will serve her audience well, but also establish more authority for her as she expands her reach and builds great partnerships.
  • Step 11: Partner with hospitals by creating a great resource guide for NICU parents. It would include many great products that are designed specifically to support NICU babies, and of course, Jescalyn's products would be included.
  • Step 12: Keep going! One step at a time. Before you know it, you're the go-to resource for NICU families!

Those are our twelve steps for Growing your Business by Being an Expert. What are yours?

 

We had some questions from our audience about getting started on Etsy.  Here's what we had to say:

  • If you are interested in getting started on Etsy, just do it! It is so easy to get set up just get your shop open with whatever you have and then you can tweak it and add things from there. By getting started, you'll figure out which products sell the best, be able to tweak your marketing efforts, and tweak your keywords to get found.
  • Focus on Etsy SEO (search engine optimization) and use the right keywords in your titles, description, and tags. Keyword research takes time, but it can also bring you a lot of traffic in return. You can make life a little easier with the Get-Found Guide.
  • If you're not sure what to include in your shop policies or on your about page, you can always look to other more established Etsy shops to figure out which points are important to discuss.
  • Take great photos, or find a photographer who can take them for you. Your ability to sell your products rests on the quality of your photos.
  • Before launching a handmade business take some time to think about the sustainability and scalability of the business. Can you actually make enough money selling this product to do it long term and full time? If not is there something you can change so that you are making enough money?
 We had such a great time chatting with Jescalyn! Now it's your turn to head out there and Be Brilliant!
 
~ Beth Anne & Sarah
Direct download: Episode2012420Jescalyn_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:52am EDT

What an interesting business idea! Loved this story from Carrie Olsen. She's a voice actor, and she's able to book gigs on national TV commercials, for online training, audiobooks, and so much more. What a fun business voice-over work would be. | brilliantbusinessmoms.com

Have you ever thought about using your voice to make a living? That's exactly what Carrie Olsen does, and she's very successful at it!  Carrie is a voice actor, and she gets paid to read commercials for radio and TV, help create Kickstarter campaigns, or create educational content for a website.

It was so fun learning everything we could about voice acting -- what you need to get started, how much time it takes, and how you can market yourself and your voice.

This is a can't-miss episode -- and Carrie even indulged us with a few of her "voices" on the interview!

On the Podcast

00:57 - Carrie's Introduction to Voice Acting

03:48 - How to Get your First Gig

07:07 - How to Audition

08:52 - The Essential Element for Excellent Audio

11:30 - Editing Audio

13:28 - Fancy Equipment?

14:50 - Carrie's Recording Studio

16:06 - Directed Recordings

18:34 - How to Sound 20 Years Younger (or Older!)

21:00 - How Long Does it Take to Record a Session?

22:26 - How Much Does a Voice Actor Get Paid?

25:40 - A Flexible Career Option for Moms

29:05 - Do you Need an Agent for Voice Acting?

30:44 - Marketing Yourself

34:17 - More than a Great Voice

36:54 - Is Carrie Olsen a Brit?

38:44 - Carrie's Adorable Mom and Aunt Moment

Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to Hear from Carrie!

Carrie's Introduction to Voice Acting

Carrie's first job out of college was in HR. She was responsible for creating the online training program for her company.  She narrated the course as well.  Carrie enjoyed online training so much that she found a new job working full-time in e-learning.

One day shortly after Carrie's maternity leave, she was listening to a podcast interview of a voice over actor on her commute to work. This was Carrie's first revelation that voice over work could be a full-time profession. Carrie called up the woman who was interviewed, Allison Steele, and hired her to be her voice over coach.  3 weeks later, Carrie had her first voice acting job!  Just 4 months later, Carrie was able to quit her full-time job to pursue voice over work as her new profession.  She's had a steady income ever since!

How to Get Your First Gig

Carrie shared several great tips on how to get your first gig as a voice over actor.

  1. Invest in Training.  Carrie faced a bit of criticism from friends and family when she hired someone to be her voice acting coach.  "Why would you hire a coach to teach you how to talk?" they asked, "you've been doing that your whole life!" But Carrie says that voice acting really is a different skill set.  There are many different intricacies to voice over work. And as you get better at voice acting, you can expand your repertoire in terms of adding new voice styles, ages, and accents.
  2. Invest in a good home studio, or find a studio where you can do your work.  The mid-level microphones that Sarah and I use for podcasting clearly wouldn't cut it for voice acting.  You need a sound-proof environment and a very high-quality microphone.
  3. Sign up for online casting sites.  Carrie got her first gigs from setting up her online profile on sites like Voices.com and Voice123.com  You have to pay either an annual fee (about $400) or a monthly fee ($40) to get started, but once you submit your profile and all of the different voices you can do, auditions that meet your skill set will be sent right to your inbox.  Carrie signed up for these sites thinking she'd just get some practice in the form of auditions, but she started getting booked for jobs pretty quickly! Note: since these sites are expensive, don't sign up for them until you've covered Steps 1 & 2. Practice a lot, get a coach, and get professional equipment.
  4. Network. Carrie now gets most of her voice over jobs through networking, referrals, and reaching out to her local community.
  5. Build your online presence. Carrie has also built her own online presence in the form of a website and being featured in different places online. Now companies find her all on their own.

How to Audition

We were pretty sure auditions for voice acting work a bit different than a casting call, but what exactly does it involve?

  • The client generally provides a script.  Sometimes they'll also provide “direction” detailing how they would like you to sound, such as female, age 30-40, really upbeat! They may also provide another commercial as reference material or to let you know that's what inspired them.
  • You record your audition on your own in your home studio or a studio you have access to.
  • You can submit multiple "takes" of the audition if you feel that would showcase all of the potential options for a certain gig.
  • Submit the audition either through the client's website, via email, or however they instruct you to do so.
  • The client listens to all of the auditions and decides who to hire.

The Essential Element for Excellent Audio

Believe it or not, the essential element for excellent audio is actually...quiet!  Carrie says that voice actors crave true quiet. And this means complete silence - not a single sound!

Carrie has visited co-working spaces who claim to have a recording space available, but as soon as she enters the room she hears creaking from the floor above or the hum of an air conditioner.

This is why your best best it to have a dedicated home studio.  It really can be just a dedicated closet with blankets hung or foam to pad it. (We personally used the closet method to record our audiobook -surrounding ourselves with pillows to isolate the sound!)

Carrie was lucky enough to find a co-working space in Kansas City that does have a professional recording space with iso booths, but this is pretty rare.

Editing Audio

Does a voice over artist have to become an expert editor or does the client edit their own work?

Unless Carrie is doing a "directed session" where the client is right there with her directing every take, she does all the editing herself.

Most of her work happens independently.  The client sends her a script, and she records it and sends it back "broadcast-ready" which means they can use it right away.  Carrie may still send several takes, but they are all fully edited. This means she has removed all breath sounds, clicks, or any of the other little distracting noises a mouth can make while it's speaking!

Did Carrie learn how to edit audio on her own or did she receive training?

A little of both!  Carrie and her husband have been doing podcasts for years, so she knew how to do basic audio edits from that.  However, with her new career, Carrie has invested in classes on editing and using professional software so she can up her editing game even more.

Fancy Equipment?

Carrie's husband is a bit of an audiophile, so when they began podcasting, they invested in studio-quality microphone.  She still uses the same microphone they purchased years ago - the AKG Perception 120. Carrie has done national radio commercials using this microphone!

Carrie even brings her own microphone into the studio to use. Occasionally she tests out the equipment there and uses a new microphone for a certain job, but she generally sticks with her tried and true mic.

Carrie's Recording Studio

Carrie is lucky to have a local co-working space that also has a great recording studio. Most co-working spaces are designed more for “desk jobs” and they don't have great recording resources.

Carrie pays $250 a month to use a local recording studio and has 24/7 access. When she isn’t in the studio she is still able to use the available office space there to get other things done.

If you are interested in finding a recording studio to rent out, you'll have to do research in your local area.  Carrie doesn't think it's very common yet for a recording studio to offer space to rent, but hopefully this trend will grow!

Directed Recordings

Carrie actually loves directed sessions for several reasons.

  • She knows exactly what the client wants. She's not left wondering whether she recording in the correct style.
  • No time spent editing.  The client takes all the raw audio files and Carrie doesn't have to edit or finish them.
  • She's solving a problem.  Carrie makes recorded sessions enjoyable by having the right mindset.  When the client gives feedback or wants another take, it's not personal. They're just looking for a particular sound and style.  Carrie knows if she can solve their problem and give them exactly what they're looking for, she's done her job.
  • Carrie is great at being flexible.  This trait allows Carrie to offer a wide variety of styles so she can make sure the client hears just what they want. She knows that for many clients, they don't quite know exactly what they want until they hear it.  (She's done up to 50 takes in one session before!)

Listen to Carrie's Voice on this AT&T Commercial.  Isn't it incredible?!  Find more examples of her work right here.

How to Sound 20 Years Younger (or Older!)

A lot of voice over work requires sounding a specific age. Carrie doesn’t do child voices (although many voice actors with high-pitched voices do!) but she is really great at doing a teenage girl voice. The teenage girl talks faster, with a higher pitch, and uses different inflection and words.

Carrie has found that there is a lot you can do with your voice if you change your mindset. When trying to sound older she just “thinks older”. If you try to get into character and think about how the person would sound that can be very helpful for matching your voice to a certain age and character.

Carrie has done voice acting from teenager through 50 year-olds.

How Long does it Take to Record a Session?

Sometimes a recording session can be very quick, particularly when the client is present, knows exactly what they want, and everyone is prepared.  In these cases, Carrie can show up, record the spot, and be done in 8 minutes!

Some sessions however can take days to record such as educational content. It all depends on the gig itself and what the client is looking for.

For Carrie, it also depends on how many spots or commercial she is recording at one time. One client hired her to record 8 commercials at once, so naturally, this session took longer. Some spots have the same copy but a different city, whereas some are completely different.

As you'll discover below, you tend to be compensated for the extra time you put into each gig.  Audiobooks end up paying more as you spend more time recording and editing them.  But, you can also get more bang for your minute by booking national spots.

How Much Does a Voice Actor Get Paid?

Every job is quite different, but there is a union for voice over actors that has a suggested rate scale.  Carrie is not part of the union, but the rate scale is helpful for figuring out a fair rate.

We found an example rate scale at voices.com. Internet, television, radio, and audiobooks are all different beasts.  Carrie says that a 30 second national radio spot is about $500 based on the scale created by the union. The sample scale above indicates that the rate would be $1000.

An audiobook can range from $150 to $300 for a finished hour. A finished hour would include all of the work you did to record it such as editing, rerecording, etc… Most clients go in with a budget and then you can work with them and decide if it will work for both of you.

The rate sheet example we found suggests that the highest rate (per minute at least!) comes from doing a national TV commercial.  This comes in at around $2000.

A Flexible Career Option for Moms

Voice over work is a great option for moms looking for flexible work that they can do from home. But Carrie doesn't want to deceive women into thinking they can just grab any old microphone, start talking, and book high-paying gigs.

While voice acting can be very lucrative, Carrie wants to remind everyone that you are still running a business. Success does not come easy and it can be a very competitive. You have to practice and hone your craft constantly.

You have to invest money initially for coaching, equipment, and membership on job sites.

Finally, you need to market yourself and run your business. Carrie is running a business just like the rest of us, and we all know that growing a business doesn't come without a lot of hard work!

Mamapreneur and Voice-Over Artist Carrie Olsen with her family

 

Do you Need an Agent for Voice Acting?

While Carrie says that most of her jobs come through networking or applying on large sites, having an agent is great for working with really large clients.

Carrie recommends waiting until you have a professional package to present before seeking out an agent.  You need to have a great demo tape. Make sure you are ready so you won't waste your time or the agent's.  Sharpen your skills first.

Marketing Yourself

Carrie’s marketing strategy revolves around one thing:  Exposure! She shared several great tips for gaining more exposure and getting more work.

  • Create online profiles. Create profiles on as many platforms as you can find. Submit a thorough profile which includes all of the different voices you can do along with demos.
  • Create your own website.  It can be very simple, but your website needs to have 2 things: Samples of what you can do, and a way to contact you.
  • Create social media profiles.  Again, this is an easy way to build up your online presence and be found in more places.
  • Get Business cards. Carrie says that while this may sound old school, it's very effective in her line of work.  She attends in-person networking events frequently, and she's ready with  her information and a way for people to contact her.
  • Join your local Chamber of Commerce.  This goes hand-in-hand with the point above.  You can network with business owners and be ready when they're looking for a voice-over artist.
  • Keep your ears open!  You'd be surprised at how much voice-over work is all around you.  Your local grocery story may have spots played over the intercom that are specific to that store.  (They hired a voice-over artist to do that!) Your local car dealership uses voice-overs. Kickstarter campaigns (like this one Hayley did) often use voice-overs too.

Beth Anne's idea: Attend writers' conferences so you can help writers turn their books into audiobooks!  Addi Ganley did just that, and the audible commissions are quite a bit better than just selling on Amazon.

More Than a Great Voice

There is a lot more to voice over work than just having a nice voice. You need to be able to connect with the audience. Carrie says that even the most unique voices can find work if they are great at acting.  Find a specialty and find a way to connect.

Conversely, having a great voice alone won't get you very far.  Your ability to act and express a certain feeling is what will make you stand out.

Is Carrie Olsen a Brit?

Carrie indulged us with a few of her different voice impressions. She shared her British Accent, Teen Girl, and The Know-it-all Mom. Her voices were spot on, and they were cracking us up! Clearly voice acting requires a lot of talent!

Carrie's Adorable Mom and Aunt Moment

Carrie has gotten her whole family involved in the fun of voice acting... and one little family member even got a paid gig!

Find Carrie Online!

CarrieOlsenVO.com - When you sign up for Carrie's newsletter, you'll get a free Getting Started Guide for Voice-Over in addition to tips and resources for voice actors.

Direct download: Episode2012320Carrie20Olsen_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:30am EDT

Wow. So impressed.  Laura Roeder has built a software company to seven figures from the ground up.  Such a funny interview too.  Social media marketing advice and tools. Business Podcast. | brilliantbusinessmoms.com

I have someone to introduce you to.  You're going to love him.  Yes, I know this is a podcast for moms, but I just had to make an exception for this guy. He's adorable, multi-talented, and he's about to solve your most pressing problem. Meet Edgar.  He a social media scheduling software created by brilliant business mom, Laura Roeder.

This interview is fun and laid-back, but full of practical advice from a woman who has built a software company from the ground up.  She's way too humble to tell you that it surpasses 100K in revenue every month (but I'm not!)

On the Podcast

01:18 - Quitter
03:25 - The Solution to the Social Media Timesuck
06:15 - Why Re-purpose Content?
09:03 - Meet Edgar. He Loves Bringing You More Traffic.
11:00 - How to Spread out Your Content
12:52 - Time-Saving Tips
13:52 - Building a Software Company
17:10 - Marketing Edgar
18:44 - Creating the Creature
19:42 - Facebook Ads Made Easy
21:31 - Customer Acquisition Cost
24:30 - Why Laura Turned Down Funding
26:15 - Edgar's Arms
29:10 - Wearing Pajamas doesn't Make you Qualified
34:59 - We Didn't Miss You When You Were Gone
37:03 - Laura's Shocking and Hilarious Mom Moment

Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to Hear Laura's Story and her Best Business Advice

Quitter

Laura is a proud quitter! After working for a branding company as a junior designer for a brief stint at age 22, Laura decided she wanted more interaction with clients and more control over her work. She left her first job out of college at less than a year in and has been working for herself ever since!

Laura started LKR Social Media to help entrepreneurs learn how to use social media in their businesses. Laura helps people become “famous in their field” and learn how to be the go-to expert in what they do.

 

The Solution to the Social Media Time Suck

In her work with social media students, Laura was using spreadsheets  to organize their content and sharing strategy online. She used this same method for promoting her own business. The spreadsheets were very labor intensive and, essentially, organized old content and kept track of when things were posted to various social media apps.

After using this method for some time, Laura realized that there had to be a better way. It was very odd to her that social media scheduling apps were not creating a library of old posts and doing the hard part for her. Laura began discussing this issue and her frustrations with her husband.  He said that he could build a solution for her in a week!

Laura's husband did, in fact, build this software (it took 6 months!) so business owners can re-purpose their content and updates easily to take advantage of all the hard work they put into those initial posts.  The software is called Edgar, and he's an adorable octopus (because of course!)  You can find him at MeetEdgar.com

Why Re-purpose Content?

One of the most time consuming things entrepreneurs do each day is create new content to share. This is so important because business owners need to consistently bring in new potential customers. However, when you do have a new potential lead, they only see the new things that you are posting and creating. Most of the time they never see the podcasts or blog posts that you shared six or more months ago.  What a bummer! You spent a lot of time creating that great stuff!

With Edgar, you have a library of all your great content that is still relevant but is being shared over and over again so that your new audience is seeing it. Most people spend hours creating new content and then just share it once. 90% of their audience never sees it! By re-purposing older content, business owners can make sure that their growing audience is able to see more of what they have to offer.

Most business owners see traffic spikes when they write and share a new post.  Then things begin to die down. With Edgar, a business owner sees regular traffic spikes by drawing fans and followers back onto their site time and time again.

Meet Edgar. He Loves Bringing You More Traffic.

Laura constantly hears from users that they see huge increases in their traffic after using Edgar. Logically, this phenomenon makes sense.  If you share a link on social media, it gets a certain amount of traffic. If you share that link twice, it should bring in twice the traffic, right?

The math holds up. If you develop a backlog with 3 or 6 months' worth of content, your audience is not at all fatigued by seeing the same thing over and over again.  They're only seeing it a few times a year.  Laura has also noticed that updates have similar results every time they are shared. For example if an update gets 10 retweets the first time it is shared, if it's shared again a month later it's likely to see 10 retweets the second time as well.

How to Spread out your Content

Laura recommends that you space out the reposting of your content based on how much content you have. For example, if you have a month of great content to share, then you should recycle those posts about once a month. At MeetEdgar, they share repeat content roughly every 3 months.

The best part? Edgar doesn’t just save your blog posts it also saves your entire social media post including the image that you put so much time into. You won't have to hunt for the perfect-sized image from the caverns of your computer again.  It's all ready to go and simply schedule out.

Time-Saving Tips

When you create your posts, you can batch your work to save time. Create all of your blog posts at once, then create all of your images. This will save you hours of work!

Automate your social media updates. Your audience doesn’t know how you are sending out your content, so automate it to save time.

Engagement and interaction, however, cannot be done with a scheduling app. So in your social media strategy spend time engaging yourself. You can get to know your audience and interact with them with the time you save by planning and scheduling posts ahead of time.

Building a Software Company

Laura had never built a software company before but she realized this shouldn’t stop her. "Just because you haven't done it before doesn't mean you can't do it," she says. As moms, we understand that babies don't enter the world knowing how to use Ruby on Rails.  We all have to learn.  We all start from scratch at some point.

Laura also stresses the importance of having a great partner or co-founder to help you build out your idea. If you outsource the development of your software, this is  Instead you want someone that is part of your team and invested in your success. Another important part of building an app or software platform is to have some sales and marketing knowledge (whether that is you or someone you hire). Laura has seen a lot of developers create great things but because they don’t know how to get it out into the world, it fails. The best type of partnership would be one person who knows the marketing side and one person who can do the technical side of things.

Marketing Edgar

Laura has used two key strategies to gain new customers for Edgar.

  1. Facebook Ads. Facebook ads have been huge for Edgar. Laura has noticed that a lot of new businesses are nervous about jumping into paid advertising, but with Facebook ads you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get your product in front of the perfect audience. It takes some time and experimentation, but the payoff is huge.  Experiment with $10-$100, and then once you see what works, you can ramp up your ad spend as the sales roll in.
  2. Branding. Laura and her team have focused a great deal on branding Edgar. He has become his own little creature with a personality! Edgar is a boy.  He's an octopus who loves to help you with your social media, and he has some weird hobbies.  Happy customers started saying, "Edgar is my boyfriend" and they thought it was so cute that they made stickers and messaging around that idea. It's much easier to picture how a piece of software fits into your life when you can imagine it as a helpful little creature.

Creating the Creature

Edgar was originally just the code name for the overall project. When the team sat down to name the program, they realized that Edgar was memorable, cute, and they couldn't think of anything better! So Edgar it was. After landing on the name Edgar, Laura and her team knew that if it was going to have a person’s name, it would need a personality as well. An octopus seemed like the perfect fit because Edgar does so much and is juggling so many different things at once. Edgar's vibrant personality has grown from there!

Facebook Ads Made Easy

While there are tons of different strategies a business owner can use with Facebook ads, it doesn't always have to be so complicated.  In creating Facebook ads for Edgar, Laura was very straightforward. She marketed to people with an interest in managing their social media professionally, and the message behind the ads was simple: “here is a new social media tool, check him out!” Laura knows her target market well, and she knows they're always looking for ways to streamline their social media efforts.

Customer Acquisition Cost

In Laura's opinion, many entrepreneurs do the math wrong when it comes to determining how much they can pay to acquire each customer.

Many business owners look at the lifetime value of a customer.  In other words, how much will the business make from that one customer over the lifetime of that business. Unfortunately this strategy is unrealistic for a small bootstrapped company.

Instead, Laura recommends setting a limit on your cost per customer acquisition based on how long you are willing to be “out” that money. For Edgar the limit was set at 3 months. Even though many customers stay with Edgar much longer than 3 months, they knew they could afford to be out the money from their ad spend for 3 months' time before they needed to start turning a profit on that customer. Edgar costs $49/month, so the Laura can spend roughly $150 to acquire each customer and still turn a profit on that customer relatively quickly.

That number may seem steep, but the math works out great for a company like Laura's, and it's allowed her to grow Edgar to over $100,000 in recurring monthly revenue.  Also, remember that the cost per customer acquisition is much different than the cost per lead.  Not all leads turn into customers.  But do the math. What percentage of your leads turn into customers? How much did you pay for all of those leads? Find the right market to target and the right cost per customer acquisition, and paid advertising doesn't have to be quite so scary.

Why Laura Turned Down Funding

Edgar was offered various funding options, but Laura turned them all down, and she's so glad she did!

Here are a few reasons why Laura turned down funding:

  1. No bosses.  When you raise funding you have people on your board that you need to please.  You're accountable to more than just yourself, and these people also have voting rights to decide on the direction of the company.
  2. No fundraising. Start-ups that receive funding often get into a trap of raising funds, then having pressure to grow really quickly, then they have to raise funds again.  Oftentimes they run into the trap of not working to acquire more customers, but instead working to acquire more investors. Laura didn't want to spend all her time looking for money from investors.  She wants to spend her time making her product worth it for each customer.
  3. No pressure to sell.  Laura didn't want to pour her heart and soul into something and then feel pressured to sell it (so that investors all make a nice profit!) She wanted to focus her energy on creating a company that treats its employees well, is loved by its customers, and is profitable in the near future instead of just on sales day.

Edgar's Arms

Edgar actually has more than 8 arms, he has 15!  There are 15 wonderful employees on the Edgar Team, and they all work from home.

Laura's best tip for managing a remote team: Look for employees with specific skills and talents instead of hiring virtual assistants. Often, VAs are running their own business, and that is their main priority.  They're spending time acquiring new clients and hiring more staff. But an employee is part of your team, and everyone is working towards the same goal of making your business successful.

Don't underestimate the power of moms: The woman who heads up Edgar's customer service team is a mom of three kids.  This woman used to work in telemarketing, because it was the only job she could find that was flexible and allowed her to work from home.  She started part-time with Edgar, then grew to full-time, and now she manages the entire customer service department!  She has incredible talent, and it wasn't being utilized all that much in her previous job.  Laura loves seeking out brilliant moms who can contribute to the Edgar Team.

Wearing Pajamas Doesn't Make you Qualified

When hiring for a work-at-home job, it can be tricky to find just the right fit.  Here are Laura's tips for assembling a great team.

  1. Mission over Lifestyle.  Really wanting to work at home does not make you qualified!  Laura looks for candidates who really believe in Edgar's mission and feel they can add to it in valuable ways.
  2. Skill + Experience. Asking the right questions and looking at candidates' past experience can help you determine whether they have the right skills for the job.  Again, this isn't about finding a random mom who just wants a typing job from home.  Laura hires brilliant people who have experience in the areas she's hiring for but also enjoy the flexibility of working from home.
  3. Create a Great Company Culture. Edgar prides itself on treating its employees well.  Everyone is kind.  Everyone works hard.  There is no workplace drama.  And the CEO happens to be flexible!  As Laura says, "We make social media software. We're not saving lives." They work hard and believe in what they're doing, but they also believe in putting in an honest day's work and taking time off in the evenings and on the weekends.  There's no reason a new feature launch can't be pushed back.  They do what's best for their team. This great company culture not only attracts the right employees but encourages them to stick around.  Everyone feels empowered to do a great job and enjoys working together.  Everyone pulls their weight  and is great at what they do.
  4. Create Part-Time Positions.  Edgar actually finds better candidates because they're more flexible with hours.  A mom who can't use her amazing talent at a full-time job can come work for them! Edgar also needs employees to have different shifts so that they can provide excellent customer service during all the hours their customers need them.

We Didn't Miss You when You were Gone

Ok, so that's not exactly true, but we should note that Laura is so brilliant at business that she built a team and created systems so that the business did great without her!  When Laura had her son, Hector, she took 3 full months off from work.  Even now, Laura works just 4 hours per day and spends the rest of her time with her family.

When Laura came back from maternity leave, she was talking to Sarah who runs the day-to-day operations for the company and asked her, "where were the big gaps in my absence?" Sarah thought about it for a while and said, "well... we didn't have anyone to do podcasts...." We all chuckled at that one!

So essentially, Laura's main role is to get the word out about Edgar and acquire new customers, and everything else runs pretty smoothly because Laura has assembled a great team and created an amazing company culture.

Laura's Shocking and Hilarious Mom Moment

Oh my goodness.  You'll want to stay tuned to the very end of our interview with Laura because her mom moment is...insane!  Hilarious, shocking, and unlike anything we've heard before.

By the way, isn't Laura so fun?  I want to hang out with her and hear more of her hilarious stories!

Find Laura Online

MeetEdgar.com

Connect with Laura on Twitter: @lkr

Direct download: Episode2012220Laura20Roeder_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:18am EDT

Oh my goodness this story will make you cry! Robyn Rosenberger has built an incredible business - Tiny Superheroes - which encourages kids with disabilities or illness and lets them know that they're all superheroes. Love this. | brilliantbusinessmoms.comOn today’s podcast we welcome Robyn Rosenberger. Robyn is the woman behind Tiny Superheroes, a business based on empowering and uniting extraordinary kids as they overcome illness or disability. She creates tiny capes for children with special needs or severe illness so they know they are truly superheroes. Robyn lives in St Louis, Missouri with her husband and two boys. You may want to grab a box of tissues for this episode and prepare to be truly inspired!

On the Podcast

01:25 - The very first Tiny Superhero

03:30 - Spreading the Love

07:30 - Robyn's Mission

08:20 - Becoming a Business

10:24 - The PR Rollercoaster

12:52 - Hiring Help

15:02 - Jump! Headfirst...into the Whirlwind!

19:10 -  Making a Profit as a Missional Business

22:30 - Who is Tiny Superheroes for?

30:55 - An Incredible Video (seriously, go watch it!)

33:40 - Balancing Life as a Mompreneur

39:18 - Robyn's Yucky Mom Moment!

The very first Tiny Superhero

Before relocating back to St Louis, Robyn and her husband lived in Seattle for five years where she worked for a software company.  As her nephew’s birthday approached, she wanted to use her creative side to create a truly awesome present for him. So Robyn completed her first ever sewing project, a tiny cape! During this time she was following the story of Brenna, a little girl born with a rare severe skin condition. She just knew that she should send Brenna a cape to let her and her family know what a superhero she was. With that, the idea for Tiny Superheroes was born!

Spreading the Love

After sending Brenna’s superhero cape, Robyn was more and more inspired to send them to other children. She wanted to bring them joy and told herself that if the tiny cape made them smile for 10 minutes, it was totally worth it. It was also important to Robyn that children with special needs and severe illness know that from the outside they are seen as true superheroes.

Robyn began looking at other stories like Brenna’s and found 10 more children with similar stories and struggles. After she sent these children their own superhero capes, a friend of one of the families unexpectedly wrote a story about Tiny Superheroes and what Robyn was doing on Today.com!

Robyn's business took off from there. Because of her mission and the love behind Robyn’s business, she's been featured on some very popular sites and shows. The families of these children have told Robyn how much it means that their struggles are acknowledged and how much extra strength they get from these tiny capes. Robyn feels indebted to these children and their families for teaching her so much and showing her what it really means to be a superhero.

Robyn’s Mission

Robyn’s children do not have special needs or illnesses but she has a passion for finding the gifts in the children that do. She strives to change how we look at them and their stories. Instead of seeing their differences let’s look at what makes them so strong and so extraordinary. The biggest reward that Robyn sees from Tiny Superheroes is being able to recognize the super powers of these children.

Becoming a Business

Robyn knew that she wanted to build something that would be sustainable over the long term. This is why she made the decision to become a for-profit business. She knew that her skills and resources would be better suited for a model that follows Tom’s shoe company (when you buy a cape, she donates a cape to a tiny superhero). In order to donate capes, she created a “nomination” system where people could nominate children who needed them.

Robyn was overwhelmed by the response she got from Today.com and about six months later, she was featured on ABC World News. It was at this point that Robyn left her full time job to focus on the business.  Robyn had to take the leap before she was sure about what would happen with her business.  But she knew she'd get an influx of orders after ABC World News, so she felt like she either had to jump head-first so she could handle the new orders, or she'd have to decline the interview and shut Tiny Superheroes down.  (I think we all know what Robyn chose to do!)

The PR Rollercoaster

Tiny Superheroes has received a lot of press which Robyn really sees a blessing. She had a hard time at first balancing this press in her business. She was overwhelmed with orders all at one time, and the business became a roller coaster of work.

Robyn also had a hard time figuring out if the business was really sustainable or if she was just getting big pushes of orders because she was being featured on big platforms. Recently, Robyn has spent time looking at the big picture and how to keep her business sustainable through the highs and lows so she can provide capes for many years to come.

Hiring Help

In the beginning Robyn was sewing all of the capes from her living room with some of her friends. They would often work late at night with the kids in bed! Finally Robyn found a small sewing company out of Seattle that was able to handle all of the sewing for Robyn.  Robyn says the quality of their work is so much better than hers! It has been a balancing act, but now the orders are starting to level out and the business is becoming more consistent. Hiring help is a huge hurdle for a lot of entrepreneurs but it's allowing Tiny Superheroes to continue on their mission.  Robyn can do what she does best - market and share the mission of the business and find new superheroes to support!

Jump Headfirst...into the Whirlwind!

The first six months of Tiny Superheroes was a whirlwind for Robyn -- including many late nights and a living room covered with fabric. Over time, the business became very stressful for her and her family. She was spending more time worried about orders than focusing on her kids. It became obvious to her that this way of living was not sustainable, but she still wasn’t sure if the business would be financially viable.

At first, Robyn tried just working part time at her job, but that didn’t work out very well -- she needed to go back to full time to really perform well in her role. It was at this time that Robyn got the call from ABC World News that they wanted to feature her business.  As we mentioned above, at that moment Robyn had a critical choice to make: jump headfirst or call it quits. It was terrifying for her to leave a great job with financial security and head into the unknown, but this decision really showed Robyn how important her mission was to her.  Tiny Superheroes is still going strong!

Making a Profit as a Missional Business

Currently Robyn’s business has not yet replaced the income she was making from her full time job. Since Tiny Superheroes donates a cape for every cape that is purchased, it has been difficult to find just the right price point for each cape. So far the business has ebbed and flowed a lot. Sometimes Robyn is able to pay herself and sometimes not.

Up until now the capes have been expensive to make and not priced in a way that would keep the business sustainable. This is something that Robyn is currently working to fix. It's difficult to create quality capes, sell them at a reasonable price, and stay true to her mission of giving a cape for each one purchased.  Robyn acknowledges that her business is still growing and managing it financially is still a learning process.

Who is Tiny Superheroes for?

Tiny Superheroes is for every kid!  Robyn wants all kids to enjoy a beautifully made cape from her company, but it's important to her that people understand when they buy a cape, they're doing so much more than that.  For every cape that's purchased, Robyn gives a cape to a child with an illness or disability, and she also lets the customer know which superhero their cape helped to support.

Purchasing a cape is a great opportunity to educate children about special needs and illnesses. This reinforces Robyn’s wish that we recognize the strengths and super powers of these children instead of the differences. Most kids don’t spend a lot of time with other kids with disabilities and severe illnesses so Tiny Superheroes  helps to connect all children together while sharing their stories.

An Incredible Video

Robyn has found that every time she gets to a point in her business where she questions whether or not she can keep going, a blessing arrives. This time the blessing was in the form of a video created by American Express. They reached out to her and wanted to support her journey, so they came to her house and filmed for hours to tell the story of her business. Robyn has found that the video has been a great tool for brand messaging and getting the word out instead of just generating sales. It's easy for people to watch this video and immediately know what Tiny Superheroes is all about. Seriously, the video is so good - watch it here!

Balancing Life as a Mompreneur

Although Robyn has not completely figured out how to balance her children and her business, she is getting better every day. Some moms want to be full time moms and some women (like Robyn) need to have another outlet for themselves in addition to being a mom. With her first son, things were seamless, and he was at an age where he could go to daycare while she worked, but when her second son came along everything changed! Robyn found that she was not doing anything at 100%. Robyn tries to learn from what other moms in her situation are doing and find the best way to balance it all. For her right now, it works best to have both kids in daycare on a regular basis. They are doing great, and she is able to focus on work during that time.

Robyn's Yucky Mom Moment!

You'll have to tune in to hear this one. I don't care to explain all the details!

Find Robyn Online!

TinySuperHeroes.com

Direct download: Episode2012120Robyn20Rosenberger_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:30am EDT

How to Partner with Bloggers to Market Your Shop - Wow. love how this etsy seller partnered with influencers on Instagram to get a ton of sales and also get new product ideas!  | brilliantbusinessmoms.com

Caitlin Orman is a shop owner from Nashville, TN.  She owns Custom Decals Boutique on Etsy and just started the shop in February. It's full of lovely, personalized mugs, cups, and door decals. Caitlin has does some great things so far to market her shop and get more sales.  We discussed more strategies for getting more sales - particularly as the holiday season approaches.

Press play on the video player below to see our Blab.  Or you can press play on the podcast player at the end of this page if you just want to hear the audio version.

Topics Discussed on the Blab

  • Great Product Photos. Caitlin initially focused on taking great photos of her items to draw new customers in.  Her shop looks lovely!
  • Etsy SEO. Caitlin worked tirelessly on optimizing her listings to get found.
  • Instagram.  Caitlin has focused on Instagram to grow her following and connect with Influencers to market her business.
  • Working with Influencers. Brittany from @dossdecor on Instagram.  She's an interior decorator with a huge following.  She asked if Caitlin could design something custom for her front door, and then she showcased on her Instagram feed. Caitlin has gained at least 700 followers from this partnership.  Caitlin got 30-50 sales each from two flash sales that she did on Instagram, and her only advertising was on Brittany's Instagram feed.
  • Showcasing how her products can be used.  It's been so helpful for Caitlin to design something custom for a home decor expert so that they can showcase how her products can be used and prospective customers can picture how her items will look in their homes.
  • Flash sales.  Caitlin designed a "flash sale listing" in her Etsy shop to get her sale orders right through Etsy.  It's more tedious to work through both paypal and Etsy.
  • Affordable Advertising.  By partnering with Influencers Caitlin can spend simply the cost of a few custom items and get tons of advertising and sales as a result.
  • Market Research.  By partnering with home decor influencers, Caitlin gets lots of new ideas for products that her customers would love.  Brittany of Doss Decor suggested the mug idea: "brave women run in my family" and the door decal "hello, friends".
  • Holiday Merchandising. Make your products seem like the perfect gift by pairing them with sprigs of holly, red ribbon, or other Christmas props.
  • Holiday SEO.  Use keywords around gift ideas to target Christmas shoppers.
  • Workflow. Turn your great photo into a smart object so that you can switch out designs on the mug or door without having to take brand new photos.  Learn more about Smart Objects here.
  • Benefit to Bloggers. Give them a super easy, creative blog post to write about by pairing one of Caitlin's decals with other door decor. You could also require that in return, they give you one photo that you can use in your product listings and marketing efforts.
  • How to Find the Right Bloggers to Partner with. Pinterest is a great place to find influencers in the home decor niche.  The home decor pins that come up near the top generally indicate a blog that's getting a high volume of traffic.
  • New Product Idea. Add cute little graphics to the front door word decal so you could surround it with holly for Christmas, then flower buds in the spring, red white and blue stars in the summer. This allows the same product to be much more versatile.
  • How to Pitch to Bloggers.  Get ideas from Cheri and Mei right here. Focus on the benefit to them and their audience.
  • One Tip on Partnerships. Make sure you're clear on what the arrangement is.  Don't send a free product to any old blogger just because they say, "sure I'll take a look at it."  That's not good enough.  You want a firm agreement on what is expected from both parties. Example: You'll make a custom product just for them, and in exchange they'll write a blog post and share once on Pinterest, Instagram, etc.  It only makes sense to send a free product "cold" to someone if they're absolutely huge in their reach and it's worth the risk of the cost of that product. Otherwise, make the agreement firm and decided upon before you give things away for free.
  • Add more listings by grouping them together.  Group 3 great door decals together to create a higher-priced listing that Etsy is more likely to promote, but to also give a discount to someone who can't pick just one.
  • Promoted Listings Tip.  Beth Anne now low-balls most of her bids to about 3 cents per click and lets Etsy promote those at a low level so that she can bring in 20-30 extra clicks to her shop each day at a ridiculously low price. Get more promoted listings tips here.
  • Beth Anne's Killer Etsy SEO Tip.  Tightly group your keyword phrases for a given listing.  For example, if you decide you want to rank for the keyword phrase "coffee cups" then you should only pick very closely related keywords to also use in that listing.  So, for example, mugs, ceramic cup, tea cups, cappuccino cups, coffee cups.  Don't get overly ambitious and try to rank for 20 different types of keywords within one listing.  Then, copy that listing and pick a completely different keyword phrase to rank for such as "customized wedding gift"  Learn more about Etsy SEO here.
  • Beth Anne's 2nd Killer SEO Tip.  You have to use the Google Keyword planner.  You'll never know exactly what people search for unless you study the data.
  • How to use the Keyword Planner without settting up an ad.  You do have to enter your billing information and set up a Google AdWords account, but you never have to run an ad to have access to the keyword planner tool. Beth Anne and Sarah have been using the tool for years and they've never once paid for an ad.
  • How do we manage it all?  We follow the tips and strategies we wrote about in our book, Time Management Mama.  We use our Brilliant Business Planner to time-block certain parts of our day to be nothing but business time. And... we don't do it all at once.  Sarah and Beth Anne both confessed that their houses suffer.  They don't keep things perfectly clean at all times.  They have time for work and their families, but the housework gets left behind sometimes.
  • Chris and Beth Anne often work as a team when it comes to the housework.  He doesn't expect Beth Anne to do everything around the house because he knows she spends all of Holden's school time working on the business.  They convene at the end of each day and on the weekends to figure out what needs to be done and they work together to make it all happen.
  • You can always do more.  So you have to just time-block and figure out how many hours you can give to the business and how many you need to set aside for your personal life.
  • Other business ideas.  Caitlin talked about eventually using her skills and knowledge from the corporate world and turning that into an information product.  Caitlin works with gathering survey results and analyzing them.  These skills would be awesome for many entrepreneurs to learn!  We suggested that perhaps a product with a higher profit margin would allow Caitlin to advertise her business more and grow it more quickly.

What did you think of this week's Blab?  Are you trying to build a business from scratch?  We'd love to hear from you!

~ Beth Anne & Sarah

How to Partner with Bloggers to Market Your Shop - Wow. love how this etsy seller partnered with influencers on Instagram to get a ton of sales and also get new product ideas!  | brilliantbusinessmoms.com

Direct download: Episode2012020Caitlin20Blab_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:04pm EDT

Great interview. Love how Sarah has built a business that works around her life as a stay-at-home mom of three - and a pastor's wife too! She only works 15 hours a week but she makes a great income on the side. | brilliantbusinessmoms.com

On today’s episode we welcome Sarah Gilcher of the very successful Etsy shop, Perennial Planner.
Sarah lives in Washington State with her husband and three daughters. She creates printable organizational tools and planners and actually took our ideas and inspiration and brought them to life with her work on the Brilliant Business Planner!  Sarah has been such a wonderful part of our Brilliant Business Moms community since it first began.  She's kind, brilliant, and crazy talented!  

On the Podcast

01:28 - Sarah's Top Priorities
03:17 - Sarah's Start on Etsy
05:37 - Self-Taught Designer
07:31 - Finding her Niche
11:34 - 3,000 Sales in 1 Year's Work!
13:31 - How to Make a PDF Editable
15:41 - Building a Lifestyle Business
17:18 - How Sarah's Business Helps her Family
18:56 - Two Streams of Income
27:15 - To Blog or not to Blog?
31:44 - 3 Kids + a Successful Shop: How She Does It
36:50 - The Power of Video for Business
41:56 - Sarah's Terrifying Mom Moment!

Sarah's Top Priorities

Sarah is a stay at home mom to three little girls who are 6, 4, and 13 months old. Her husband is a pastor
and spends a lot of time learning new languages and training new pastors. Sarah's main priorities are as a wife, mom, and helper in so many ways to her  husband.  She helps with his ministry, and she also has the privilege of helping to bring in an extra income for their family.

Mamapreneur Sarah Gilcher of Perennial planner on Etsy - building a business that works for her family.

Sarah's Start on Etsy

Sarah’s journey with Etsy began when she was searching for a specific printable grocery list. When she couldn't find exactly what she wanted, she decided to open up Adobe Illustrator and create one herself! Sarah
then realized that she could make her printable cute and share it with other moms who may be looking for the same thing.

Sarah was excited about helping women with organizational tools that were attractive
and that moms would actually want to use. Another early item in Sarah's shop was a spreadsheet she and her family had used to get themselves out of debt.  Clearly, Sarah's organizational sheets were helpful!  All she did was make them prettier, and they were ready for Etsy success.

Self-Taught Designer

Sarah has a degree in Fine Art, but she's a self-taught graphic designer. In doing projects for her church,
friends, and for herself, Sarah slowly learned programs like Adobe Illustrator and In Design over the course of several years.  Now she can create beautiful printables and planners like it's nothing!  (Seriously - Sarah works fast!)

Finding Her Niche

Business was very slow when Sarah was started out with her printables Etsy shop. Since she was pregnant
with her 3rd baby, Sarah became interested in the idea of sewing and selling baby products in a brand new shop. She knew that baby products were a wildly successful niche on Etsy and wanted a piece of that pie. Through this process of trying to build up her second Etsy shop, Sarah spent a lot of time learning how to grow her store.

She listened to podcasts like Brilliant Business Moms and took the advice of other successful Etsy sellers. Sarah then applied the lessons she learned to both Etsy shops and found that her original printable store was seeing lots of growth.

Since product creation is so much more time consuming than selling digital products, and since her digital store was seeing more growth, Sarah ditched the baby shop and focused on her original idea. She rebranded the shop and officially become Perennial Planner. After about a year of focused work, Sarah's shop has surpassed 3000 sales!

3,000 Sales in 1 Year's Work

Sarah has attributed a lot of her success to listening to the Brilliant Business Moms podcast! (aww shucks, thanks Sarah!) She found that listening to stories of other successful business owners has been a huge help for her.

Once Sarah started seeing her Etsy shop as a real business, success followed.  Sarah shared two great tips that helped her to grow:

  1. Focus on keywords, titles, and tags for each listing to get found more often via Etsy search.
  2. Brand product photos so that your online shop looks more cohesive. This gives the customer a similar feeling as if they were stepping inside a physical shop. Set the right tone for your customers.

How to Make a PDF Editable

A lot of Sarah’s printables are actually editable forms so customers can use them right on their computers.

To Make a PDF Editable:

  1. Use Adobe Acrobat Pro (this is a part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud Subscription).
  2. Find “tools” on the top menu.
  3. Select “Forms”, then “Edit”, and “Add New Fields”. This will allow you to create editable fields for your customers built right into your digital products.
  4. Note: you cannot copy and paste your fields throughout the document to add more than one editable filed.  Instead, select “Create Multiple Copies” to speed up the process.
  5. You will also be able to give fields multiple lines and make them rich text enabled so customers can change the size and fonts of the text.

How cool is that?!

Building a Lifestyle Business

Sarah's top priority is her family and her faith.  She knew she needed a flexible schedule, and she quickly realized that she didn't want to create and ship physical products day after day.

Creating beautiful and helpful digital products has been the perfect solution for Sarah.  The best part?  She can create a product once and sell it over and over again... even while she sleeps!

How Sarah's Business Helps her Family

Perennial Planner has provided Sarah’s family with more financial freedom. Since she has little to no overhead she is able to bring home more profits, and that money has helped cover the “extras” for her family. Sarah and her family live a Dave Ramsey lifestyle with no debt. Although her husband provides the primary income, her Etsy shop has worked to cover extra expenses and provide more security.
Occasionally Sarah does struggle with the idea that she is bringing in extra money and struggles with the mentality, "oh the business will cover that!" versus remembering to be intentional with how she spends and what the family's big goals are.

Mamapreneur Sarah Gilcher Owns a Digital Etsy Shop that has over 3,000 sales.

Two Income Streams

Sarah loves doing whatever she can to help busy moms by providing them with the organizational tools they need. Often customers’ needs are slightly different from her product so she offers customization. This is hard to balance with the overall business because custom work in any business can be very time consuming. Sarah counters this struggle with requiring a minimum amount for custom products so that each order is worth the time she puts in.

On top of doing custom orders for her Etsy shop, Sarah enjoys taking on freelance projects. This provides another great stream of income for her business, and it keeps her income balanced and weatherproof during a slow season on Etsy.

In the past, Sarah has done work for local businesses but lately she is getting more referrals from her shop and past customers.

One of Sarah’s biggest freelance jobs so far has been designing the Brilliant Business Planner! She landed this job by seeing a need for her service and reaching out to Sarah and Beth Anne. This is a great lesson for any entrepreneur -- it never hurts to ask. The worst thing that can happen is that someone says no, but on the flip side you could land a great job and a great partnership!

Sarah really enjoys these larger projects and they work out well to balance out the times when her Etsy shop slows down during the year. (We've certainly loved working with Sarah and hope to keep her busy for years to come!)

To Blog or Not to Blog?

As with many other Etsy sellers Sarah has struggled with blogging to promote her shop.  Blogging takes time and commitment, and it's often too much to add on to an already busy shop!

Recently, Sarah did a post on how to print her products double sided. She plans to focus more on helpful, instructional type videos that will serve her current customers. She can link to these videos within the listing descriptions in her shop.

Videos are a great tool for serving current customers better as well as gaining trust and credibility with new shoppers. Sarah and Beth Anne created a video about how to build a butterfly terrarium and that video has sold more products as well as ranked well on Google for some competitive keyword phrases in their niche! (And isn't Sarah's little girl Lilly adorable?)

Your videos don’t have to be perfect or even posted on your own website, just get them posted to your YouTube channel and out in front of an audience!

3 Kids + a Successful Shop: How She Does It

Building a successful business can take a bit time commitment, but Sarah proves that you can do it with just a few hours a week. Sarah only works 10-15 hours each week and balances this time between afternoons (during naptime) and nights (if her husband is working).

A great tip Sarah shared was to encourage independence in smaller children so they can be playing alone and entertained at least for a short time while you do some work. Sarah has been able to achieve her goal of making a part-time income on her own terms with lots of flexibility. Although she tries to continually create new products, she knows that her business was built to allow for flexibility and put her family first.  So Sarah doesn't stress if she can't add new products for a while.  Her business works for her - not the other way around!

Sometimes when you're working as your own boss it's easy to set crazy deadlines or hours for yourself without realizing it. Step back, know your limits and ask yourself if you and your family are thriving. It can take a long time to learn how you work best but it is so important so you can set up your time and your business for success.

The Power of Video for Business

Many online business owners don't realize how powerful video can be for their business.  Not only does it let you connect with your audience on a deeper level and teach things that are difficult to convey with words on a screen, but video also makes it easier to rank in Google (as well as get found on YouTube of course!)

The video that Sarah and Beth Anne created on how to build a butterfly terrarium has 967 views! This video has had zero promotion and only one “dead link” included in the listing descriptions in their Etsy shop.

Another surprising video result:  Beth Anne found a tutorial video she created for her and Sarah's now-defunct Mommy blog on making cappuccinos at home with a frother.  That video has almost 5,000 views on it! Again, this video wasn't promoted in any way, it just sits on their Mommy blog which gets about 10-20 hits per day... so it's essentially dead.  The video is getting viewed because it's ranking for keyword phrases on Google and YouTube.

These statistics just show how powerful video can be. You could use video views to send people to an Etsy shop or blog. How can you use video to drive more traffic and sales your way?

If you're nervous about starting out on video, Meredith Marsh, the VidProMom has you covered with these great tips for newbies.

Sarah's Terrifying Mom Moment!

Sarah's mom moment is both funny and terrifying!! You'll have to tune in to hear the story!

Find Sarah Online!

PerennialPlanner.Etsy.com
PerennialPlanner.com
Instagram: @PerennialPlanner

Watch Sarah's adorable little girls in our planner landing page video! (They're the ones talking about Pinterest strategy!)

Don't forget to join in on our book club for Money Making Mom by Crystal Paine. You can find the schedule here.

Direct download: Episode2011920Sarah20Gilcher_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:30am EDT

Great discussion on lots of different ways to market an Etsy shop - including Etsy promoted listings, pinterest, instagram, Facebook parties (hadn't even heard of that one before!) so many great ideas here. Etsy seller tips galore! | brilliantbusinessmoms.com
Our secret weapon for marketing our shop? The Brilliant Business Planner.

 

Every Wednesday at 1:30 Eastern, Sarah and I hop on Blab with a Brilliant Business Mom to strategize ways she can grow her business.  Last week, we chatted with Julie Fuller of Tokyo Blossom Boutique.  

Julie recently re-branded her shop, and now it's filled with fun, vibrant, colorful knitwear and accessories.  She's truly set herself apart in the knitwear space, and we can't wait to see how she grows.

Topics Discussed on our Etsy Strategy Blab

  • Branding.  This Fall, Julie re-branded her shop with a palette of 6 bold, beautiful colors.  Now her shop looks and feels cohesive and has a fun feel to it.  The best part about re-considering her products and re-branding?  Julie now feels so proud of her shop!  She's excited to tell everyone she knows about it, and even her friends and family now call it her business - not just her cute little shop.
  • Tip: Make products you're truly proud of - this is half the battle when it comes to marketing yourself and making sales.
  • Etsy Promoted Listings.  Promoted listings can be a great strategy for getting found as a new shop.  Some tips to remember: If you're able to get clicks, favorites, and sales on a promoted listing, that extra SEO bump absolutely transfers over into that listing even when it's not promoted.  You will see an improvement in your search engine rankings if your promoted listing does well.
  • Promoted Listings Tip 2: Etsy seems to favor the more expensive listings - giving them more views and exposure overall.  The theory: Etsy stands to make a lot more off of each sale when a more expensive item is sold.  So consider choosing your most expensive listings to promote.
  • Promoted Listings Tip 3: If you have an item that is performing well as a promoted listing, you can often bid a super low amount (3 cents per click) and Etsy will continue to promote that listing.  Again, if they know your listing will sell much better than someone else's, they have no problem taking your 3 cents per click because they will still make a better profit overall.
  • Promoted Listings Set-up: You can choose your maximum budget per day, and choose as low as $1.00 per day.  Then, you get to decide which listings you'll promote.  My recommendation is to promote just a few listings at a time so you can monitor what's working as well as push a few listings to the top of search results versus spreading yourself too thin.  Then, you decide how much you're willing to pay per click for that listing.  You can go with Etsy's recommendation (auto-bid) or you can choose your own bid amount - and that can be either higher or lower than Etsy's recommendation.  One caveat: if you set a high bid and a low budget amount, you may run out of your budget early in the day and miss "prime-time" for buyers.
  • Promoted Listings Tip 4: My benchmark for a successful promoted listing: getting at least 1 click for every 50 impressions of a promoted listings.  But if your listing only gets 1 click per every 200 impressions, then that product photo may need some work - you're not generating enough interest in that product.
  • Promoted Listings Tip 5: Promoted Listings is a great way to test which search terms are most effective for reaching your ideal customer.  Etsy will show you which of your terms have high click-through rates.
  • Promoted Listings Tip 6: You still have to be diligent with your titles, description, and tags
  • Crochet vs. Knit: In Julie's experience, tagging your items as "crocheted" often attracts other crocheters looking for new ideas versus a customer whose ready to buy.  Julie finds that tagging her items as hand-knit is a much better choice for attracting her ideal customer.
  • Main Traffic Sources: Julie is getting most of her shop traffic through Instagram and Facebook.  So she's off to a good start with social media marketing.
  • Facebook Parties: Julie designates an hour where she would have a party on her Facebook fan page. Julie then told a few of her friends about the party and asked them to spread the word.  She offered everybody who participated a 10% off coupon for her store, but told them that one person would win the grand prize.
  • Facebook Party Part 2: Every 5-10 minutes there was a new game on Julie's page that you could participate in.  For each question a participant answered, they received "party bucks".  The person who received the most party bucks won the grand prize at the end.  30 minutes into the party, many new people were involved because Julie's posts were getting so much interaction that they were showing up in new people's feeds.  Julie received a lot of traffic from the party and several sales as well.
  • Instagram Loop Giveaways: Julie could consider a loop giveaway on Instagram where she gives away shop credit instead of a finished product.  In this way, Julie isn't out the entire cost and labor of a product, but rather, could gain a new customer for her shop along with many new followers.
  • What to do about Etsy's purchase limits: Etsy doesn't let you give a straight "gift certificate" to your shop.  If you offer a coupon for $25 off in your shop, the customer has to purchase 105% of that price in order for the coupon to work.  To get around this, just let the customer know about this rule, and you can refund
  • Pinterest Group Boards for Etsy Sellers:  We're part of several, and you can check out our account here.  Amy Gabriel of GabrielsGoodTidings is also part of several great group boards for Etsy Sellers.
  • Etsy Traffic Lab, Etsy's Elite, Pinterest Mini-Mall Viral Board.
  • How to track Pinterest sales: Use a special coupon code just for your pins to try to track sales. For example, you can state in your pin description, "use the coupon code PIN10 for 10% off your purchase"
  • If ViralTag is too expensive, BoardBooster is another option to automatically schedule listings and pins to great group boards.
  • Consider Seasonal Boards:  When you're really active on Pinterest and you're a great curator, other pinners start to take notice and follow you.  Some ideas for Julie: gift ideas for her, handmade gift ideas, winter fashion, and many other topical boards where Julie's products would make a great fit.
  • Use vertical photos on Pinterest.  You can take your own vertical photo, upload it, and still link that photo to the listing it corresponds to in your Etsy shop.
  • Consider pitching to bloggers to be included in their gift guides.  Don't forget to follow up 10 days later.  Bloggers are busy and can very easily miss your email! Beth Anne writes a conversational email, compliments the blogger or influencer, and then she always includes a positive, confident note at the end such as: "looking forward to working with you!" or "looking forward to chatting soon!"  and this subtly suggests that a partnership is going to happen.
  • Guest posting: Julie could use her expertise to drive more traffic to her shop.  She could teach on why it's important to use high-quality fibers in knit-wear, or why it's important to support small business, or what her business means to her and her family.
  • Landing a guest post on the Etsy blog: Beth Anne reached out to Julie Schneider, the editor in chief of the Etsy blog.  She initially messaged Julie with a pitch, but an autoresponder came back that linked to an official form to fill out.  The form asked for writing samples, specific pitches, and my experience as an Etsy seller. Beth Anne also tied her pitch into past articles to show that she truly knew the blog content well and knew how best to serve that audience.  Be specific with your pitch and don't try to cover too much in any given post.  Etsy keeps their blog posts relatively basic and short.
  • Email opt-in idea: Create a style guide for customers to show them how to wear bright colors in winter.  Julie plans to pair her products with other beautiful fashion items - the same way StitchFix sends outfit inspiration with each fix.
  • AllThisWood: this shop is a great resource for sellers who want branding on their items.  Their wooden tags are perfect for making it through the wash unscathed and making sure each and every happy customer knows exactly where they found you.
  • Influencers: We tried to think of a celebrity who would use Julie's adorable coffee cozy and could provide free advertising for her. Julie thought she could drop off some cozies at a cool, hipster coffee shop that her husband does graphic design for.
  • Influencer Idea #2: Consider reaching out to Periscope Influencers.  There are many influencers who are super positive and would love to hold a coffee with Julie's positive cozies wrapped around them.  Don't just send the cozy, but suggest how you would like them to use it "I'd love to see you using my cozy on Periscope." Set up a profile on Periscope so it's really easy for a scoper to point people back to Julie - and her profile could link right to her shop.
  • Julie's genius strategy for pricing her products:  she weighs her item after she makes it!  So in this way, she knows whether it was 3/4th of a skein, etc. and calculates out the exact price of materials that way.  Then Julie times herself to know how much her production cost.  The other brilliant tip Julie shared? Thicker yarn means that each stitch covers way more space and the labor is far less.

Don't forget to check out Julie's adorable items: Tokyo Blossom on Etsy

Instagram: @tokyoblossom

Direct download: Episode2011820Blab20with20Julie20Fuller_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:45am EDT

Did you know even Crystal Paine has had failed businesses?  I love her transparency and her focus in her new book - Money Making Mom, and it was so fun to talk on Skype with her about what it means to her and how she's empowering women to earn more and make a difference.  | brilliantbusinessmoms.com

If I told you that this week's episode was with a "grandma blogger" who built her business on a pile of failures, would you guess that I was talking about Crystal Paine?!  Probably not!  But it's true.  Crystal is so honest in this interview, as well as in her newest book: Money Making Mom: How Every Woman Can Earn More and Make a Difference.

Sarah and I just love the way Crystal shares from her heart and holds nothing back.  She's also incredibly passionate about helping women to get out of survival mode so they can thrive.  You won't meet many successful online business owners who care more about giving than earning, but Crystal does!  Listen on, Brilliant Business Mom, for a breath of fresh air.

On the Podcast

01:33 - Is Crystal a Grandma?!
02:56 - Can you Relate?
04:49 - 2 Parameters Crystal Sets to Take Back her Time
07:26 - Before You Quit, Ask Yourself This
08:36 - Rejections, Setbacks & Failures...What to do
10:27 - The World Needs You!
13:38 - Spoiler Alert - Crystal has Failed at Things!
15:58 - On Learning New Tricks

Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to Hear from Crystal!

Is Crystal a Grandma?!

Crystal doesn't have any real-life grandkids, but she's considered by some to be a Grandma blogger! That's because she started blogging 10 years ago...when most people had no idea what a blog was. Crystal initially started a "mommy blog", but in 2007 she started MoneySavingMom.com as a side hustle. After a year she realized that it was growing so quickly and doing so well that it made sense to give it her full attention. Crystal now has a full team of people working with her -- including her husband Jesse of 12 years.

Can you Relate?

In the course of helping families to save money and get by with less, Crystal realized something important about her audience: There was simply a point for many families where they were doing everything right and no longer had a “budget” problem but really had an income problem.

Can you relate? I know there are some Brilliant Business Moms out there who are brilliant at budgeting, but maybe you have a child with special needs and the expenses are just too great. Maybe you want to serve in missions more often, but the budget won't allow it.

Crystal has been passionate about this topic for years but decided to wait until the timing was just right.
She now has many years of experience with running a business as well as making mistakes and learning from
her failures. Crystal shares ways for women to bring money into their families by combining their passions,
gifts, and skills and making sure it is a blessing and not a burden. 

2 Parameters Crystal Sets to Take Back her Time

1. Crystal sets time parameters that allow her to give designated time to both her family and her business. One way she does this is by “co-homeschooling” with her husband. She teaches in the morning and makes sure to remain fully present and invested in what she is doing. In the afternoons her husband takes over teaching and
managing the kid’s activities and Crystal is able to fully focus on her business.

2. Crystal recently took email off of her phone, and that has made a huge difference! Since she uses her phone for her alarm in the morning (Shoutout to the Sleep Cycle App!) it stays right next to her in bed. Having e-mail on her phone was causing her to be bombarded with “to dos”, stress, and ideas that were preventing her from getting a good night’s sleep!

Before You Quit, Ask Yourself This

Growing a business is hard! If you're on the fence and thinking about quitting, ask yourself this question: "Is my business a blessing or a burden?" Does your business give you the quality of life you want
for your family or is it causing you to be stressed and continually unhappy? If your business is becoming
a burden look at how you can either scale back or change directions.

Rejections, Setbacks, & Failures...What to do

Even 10 years into online business, Crystal confesses that she still faces rejections, setbacks, or even failures! And it happens more often than the rest of us might think. There are also challenges involved in leading a large team that just make life a little more complicated. When things get really challenging, and Crystal is tempted to quit, she always goes back to her "why" Knowing her "why" keeps her going through all of the difficult things, because those hurdles are worth it when you've accomplished your mission. Crystal’s “why” is to inspire and encourage women to stop living their lives stuck in survival mode.

The World Needs You!

While there are plenty of books on the market that will help women make more money, Crystal wanted to send a different message out into the world - one that would remind us of the true purpose of money.

Making more money isn't about building your own little empire - filled with nice cars, big houses, and beautiful things. Yes, making money can be a blessing to your family, but it can also make an impact on the world around you.

Crystal knows what it's like to live life with outstretched arms. She knows what a blessing it truly is to serve and give to others, and she wants more women to experience life this way.

So, get off that couch, Brilliant Business Mom, the world needs you!

Spoiler Alert - Crystal has Failed at Things!

Crystal loves to say that MoneySavingMom.com became so successful because it was "built upon a pile of failures".  As with most successful entrepreneurs, Crystal is certainly not an overnight success. She tried a large
range of small businesses that failed. Crystal has sold on Ebay, resold books, sold handmade
cloth diapers, and tried many different blogs! Before Money Saving Mom, Crystal had a blog for
young moms, one for Christian women, a blog on politics, and a website about saving money.  All of these blogs were flops!


However, each of these failures taught her lessons that have made her the successful business woman she is today. Crystal always focuses on learning and growing in everything she does.  In every situation, Crystal asks herself, "how can I make this better?"  

“The day that you feel like you’ve arrived is the day that your business starts to die"

On Learning New Tricks

Crystal has jumped on the Periscope band wagon and is loving it! Although she is an introvert she scopes
twice a day and has loved being able to connect with her audience immediately and authentically. Not
only has Periscope given her access to a new group of fans and followers but she is also going outside
her comfort zone and learning and growing!

(That's one thing we really admire about Crystal - she's always trying new things and finding ways to grow as a person!)

Find Crystal Online

MoneySavingMom.com
@moneysavingmom on Periscope
Head to MoneyMakingMomBook.com to get more information about the book and get Crystal's 5 Day Course on Making an Income from Home.

Pssstt! We're also hosting a book club for Money Making Mom! The book club kicks off on Monday, November 9th on Periscope.  Get the full details right here.

Other Resources Mentioned on this Episode:
The 2016 Brilliant Business Planner

Direct download: Episode2011720Crystal20Paine20MMM20final_mixdown.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:35am EDT

Do you travel for your small business? What expenses can you deduct on your tax return? Quickly learn here!

Did you travel for your small business this year?  As a blogger you might have attended a business conference.  As an Etsy seller, you may have travelled a long distance to showcase your beautiful handmade products at a big craft fair.  So which travel expenses can you deduct on your taxes?

Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to hear from Sarah, CPA and Small Business Tax Expert

 

The IRS defines travel expenses as the ordinary and necessary expense of traveling away from home for your business profession or job.  This is travel away from your tax home, which is defined by the IRS as your principal place of business.

As always, remember to keep records and receipts while you travel.  The IRS will want you to have these!

If you travel by air or train you can deduct the cost of the plane or train ticket.  If you rent a car, you can deduct that cost.

If you drive your own car you can use the standard mileage rate.  For instance, if you drove 500 miles round trip to a conference, and the standard mileage rate for the year was .50 per mile (this just a round number as an example, in 2015 the mileage rate was .575), you could deduct $250 as a mileage deduction on your tax return.  Learn more about business mileage expense in Episode 69.

If you need to stay overnight, you can deduct the cost of the hotel room.  If you use rewards points for your hotel or airfare, and did not actually spend money, you cannot deduct that as a business expense

Other ordinary and necessary expenses of travel such as taxis, tips, or parking are also tax deductible.

Meals are really the only exception.  Meals are subject to a 50% limit.  So if you are traveling away from your tax home, and you purchase a meal while you are traveling, only 50% of the cost is allowed as a tax deduction.  This holds true for non-traveling business meals as well.  If you and your partners have a business meeting at a restaurant, only 50% of the cost is deductible as a business expense.

So that's it.  If you are legitimately traveling for business, you can deduct all of your expenses.  Meals are the only exception with the 50% limit.

The IRS outlines these guidelines in publication 463.  The information provided here is a summary of the IRS guidelines, so use your judgment when applying my summarized information to your particular tax situation.

Did you learn something new about business expenses during travel?  I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

-Sarah

Direct download: Episode2011620Travel20Expenses_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:06am EDT

Instagram Marketing: How to Partner with Influencers on Instagram. Loved this real conversation between small business owners on what they do and what's working for them to pitch to influencers and grow their business. | briliantbusinessmoms.com

Have we told you lately that we're obsessed with Blab?  It's true!  Blab is a live-streaming video platform that allows for up to four people to chat on video at once.  This past week, we Blabbed with Mei Pak of Tiny Hands Jewelry & Creative Hive Co. and Cheri Tracy of Orglamix Cosmetics.  Both women have partnered with influencers on Instagram multiple times to grow their following, their email lists, and ultimately gain more loyal customers and sales.

Press play on the podcast player below to hear the (slightly edited) version of the chat we had.  Or, if you'd like to see the whole thing uncut, you can play the Blab video player at the bottom of the notes.

 

Mei Pak is a serial entrepreneur who started Tiny Hands Jewelry, a handmade scented food jewelry business in 2006.  She now teaches other creative entrepreneurs about business at Creative Hive Co.  Cheri Tracy sells colorful, cruelty-free cosmetics at Orglamix.com.

Growing an Instagram Following

Mei confessed that she grew her jewelry business account on Instagram from 0-1000 followers by buying those followers. She doesn't recommend doing this after having done it herself! It helped build up credibility early on but those followers were fake and unengaged.  Mei started a second Instagram account for her newer business @creativehiveco For her new account, Mei has collected a list of hashtags that she knows her ideal customer is using.  For every 50-70 likes she gives out to potential customers, a small portion will notice her, head to her profile, and if they like what she's doing, they'll follow her. Mei has 3500 Instagram followers for her @creativehiveco account that is only 3 months old! Mei doesn't follow people unless she finds really great stuff from them, but instead she likes and comments on others' photos to get them to take notice.

Cheri has primarily reached out to influencers to grow her Instagram account.  She's reached out to accounts with 1500 followers all the way up to 100,000 followers.  Cheri's Orglamix account is about to hit 10,000 followers as of October 2015.

Early on, Cheri also pushed her new Instagram account everywhere.  She told her email list.  She told her fans on Facebook. She connected with bigger names in her industry on Instagram to get noticed.

Pay attention to the time you post and how it performs.  Cheri does a morning post, a lunchtime post, and an evening post around 8 PM.  Her night-time posts get the most interaction.

Other ideas for growth: Loop Giveaways, or reaching out to accounts that feature handmade sellers.

Beth Anne has grown the @brilliantbizmom account to 2100 followers as of October 2015. She found relevant hashtags in her niche and liked and commented on recent photos.  Then she would also find newer accounts interested in blogging or handmade business and like their photos along with following that account. Iconosquare helps her to unfollow the users who aren't following you back. Her current strategy is to post every day and use relevant hashtags in the first comment. (You can post up to 30 hashtags in one comment.)

How an Influencer Can Make an Impact

Mei started off with a great example of just how effective a partnership with an influencer can be. She found an influencer on Instagram one day who had a style and fashion sense matched hers perfectly.  This woman was a musician on The Voice. Mei found her email address, introduced herself, told her she loved her style, told her about her jewelry, and offered to send some as gifts for her and her friends and family.

The email landed in the singer's publicist's inbox.  The publicist relayed the information, and the woman chose several pieces that she really wanted.  This woman then took a photo of all the jewelry laid out on the table and tagged her, and within 48 hours Mei had 2,000 new followers on Instagram.

Mei wants to note that these followers are completely different from paid followers. These are people who saw the photo of her products, genuinely liked them, and took the time to check Mei and her business out and choose to follow her. These are potential customers for Mei that she can build a relationship with.

How to Reach Out to Influencers

Cheri sends a direct message on Instagram to an influencer she wants to work with, and about 8 times out of 10, she receives a positive response back.

Whether the influencer wants free product, a gift card, or cash depends on the person and the size of their account.

Details to Consider

Use specific hashtags when working with an influencer (to draw in more viewers to the post) and specify the amount of time the post is going to stay up.  Cheri thought her sponsored posts would stay up indefinitely, but then a larger influencer told her it would be $100 for 5 hours.  So you have to specify whether the post will be up permanently or for a certain time-frame.  Once a post is deleted, the hashtags and its ability to be found all disappear.

Do you ever send a cold package to Influencers?

Mei has heard of a brand who makes high-end chocolates. If they truly believe the person they're planning to send something to will love their products, and they can't get in touch with them via email or social media, they will go ahead and send out a blind product and that has worked for them.

For Mei, however, she always sends a pitch first to ask for their permission, and then they get to decide which of Mei's pieces they would like the best.  Mei says of sending cold packages, "don't be afraid to do that with people who you think will fall in love with your stuff."

Mei is dying to get in touch with Ree Drummond of the Pioneer Woman.  We all had ideas for sending the perfect care package to her!

What should you say when you pitch an Influencer?

Cheri keeps her pitches really short and sweet, 3-5 sentences, and includes her email address if they'd prefer to get back to her that way versus Instagram direct messages.

Cheri will always find a connection or compliment she can give where she mentions a blog post she loved or an Instagram post she connected with.  This lets them know she's a real person and genuinely likes what they do.

Focus on what you can do for them and their customer base and not what they can do for you.  For example, Cheri can focus on someone who is an advocate for cruelty-free products.

Mei had several tips to share too:

Don't make the pitch feel like a favor.  Make it all about them.

Don't be formal with your greeting.  Don't say Hi Ms. So-and-so.  That feels spammy.  Call the influencer by their first name.

Mei keeps her pitches at 10 lines max.

Don't just read their latest blog post.  You have to do your research.  They will sniff you out if all you did was read the first post.

Mei also recommends including a P.S. note at the bottom of your emails, because people tend to read and pay attention to that P.S. note!

Mei reached out to an editor of Girl's Life magazine, and that editor had mentioned a band she liked.  Mei was able to include a P.S. that she loved this band too and went to college with them!

Do Instagram Direct Messages Work?

Does an Influencer have to be following you in order to see your messages?  No.  You can direct message any account that you personally follow.

Whatever you would say in an email, Cheri sends in a direct message.  She gets responses almost immediately for many of her pitches.

Cheri sent a message to Sue B. Zimmerman (the Instagram Expert) the other week and she received a response back within 5 minutes!

Most influencers get back to Cheri within 24 hours, and about 8 out of 10 pitches get back to her with a response.  Cheri believes this response rate is much higher than if she were to email them.  People who are on Instagram are really active and they're on there all the time.  And direct messaging is still under-utilized so it's a quick win right now.

Note: If someone isn't following you on Instagram, your message will show up as a notification at the top of their inbox.  The person receiving the message can click the notification and choose to allow messages from that person or not allow.  So as long as they allow the message to come through, you're good!  And either way, they should see that notification right at the top of their inbox.

How to Identify Influencers to Work with

Mei looks for as large a following as possible, but she also looks for great engagement.  Her general rule of thumb is to have 5% or more engagement on each posts.  For example, an account with 1,000 followers should have 50-100 likes or comments with each post.

If you have a list of hashtags that you know your customers are using, you can see the top 9 most popular posts for that hashtag. Chances are one of the top 9 photos was posted by an Influencer in your niche.

Finding the right Influencers involves some elbow grease.  As you explore Instagram and interact, you'll run across Influencers and you can write them down and keep track of them on a spreadsheet.

Cheri also looks for accounts that have high engagement.  She searches for relevant hashtags as well and keeps a running list of her favorites.

How to Weigh Follower Counts versus Engagement

Although 5% engagement might be hard to find, it tends to be way more worth it for Mei to find those accounts to work with versus just finding the biggest possible account.

Cheri agrees that she tends to get better results with smaller accounts because they tend to be more engaged.

In addition, larger accounts often require a cash payment of $250 or more, versus a smaller account who may accept a free product or a gift card.

When Cheri first started working with influencers she would provide the photos or they'd take one off of her website, but she's seen way better results with lifestyle shots - even if the influencer just shares the package they received.  Natural shots right from the influencer perform much better than a generic photo from your site.

Mei says it's not impossible for influencers to use photos from your website.  A lot of larger influencers charge more if you use their photo and less if they take their own photo (they got a free product from you.)

How much does it cost to work with an Influencer?

Cheri says that larger accounts look for a cash incentive.  She's found prices anywhere from $10 up to $5,000 for a post that would stay up for 5 hours.  (That account had about 300,000 followers at the time!)

Cheri always starts by offering free product of the influencer's choice, then she'll offer a $50 or $100 gift card.  But many influencers just want cash.  Cheri has found prices to be about $50-100 per 50,000 followers.

If a private account has representation, they may have rates posted.  But Cheri has found that everything is negotiable.

Mei also stressed the importance of negotiating: "Just because we're women doesn't mean we have to always play by the rules," she says.

Mei always chooses to send free product first.  Next, she chooses to pay for features where it's anywhere from $40 to $200 with discounts for multiple features, and extra fees to also do a giveaway or keep the post up forever.  At $300 you're normally getting a "package" of posts and benefits.

Another option: Working with feature accounts. These are accounts on Instagram that only post photos from other people's accounts within a very specific niche (such as planners, handmade items, skateboarding, you name it!).  You don't know who they are or where they're located, but some of them get great engagement with their followers within their niche.

Tips for Streamlining on Instagram

Mei hired a Virtual Assistant who re-posts much of Mei's old content on Instagram. This system works because Mei's time is limited, but her engagement has gone down a bit as a result. She used to get over 1,000 likes with just 10,000 followers because she was posting fresh content and it was posted by her - the maker.  Mei now gets 600-900 likes on a photo, and her account has over 20,000 followers. Mei tends to push posts from Facebook over to Instagram.

Hiring a virtual assistant for her main business Instagram account also has another added benefit: Mei gets to avoid the drama that can happen there.  (Apparently heated words were exchanged over a bacon necklace...made with clay, not real bacon.)

Cheri pushes posts from Instagram over to Facebook to populate her page more often. Facebook and Instagram work well together because you can use a square photo on each so you don't have to edit and re-size.

In general, both ladies (along with us!) found that the followers they have on Instagram aren't usually the same people who follow them on Facebook.  You're reaching a new audience when you grow on Instagram.

How to Track Sales from Instagram

Cheri uses a bit.ly link in her profile that is linked to a landing page on her site.  Her goal with Instagram is not necessarily to get direct sales but to gain email subscribers.  Cheri knows the lifetime value of a subscriber so she can track how well sponsored campaigns are working based on how many new subscribers she may get on a certain day when a campaign is live.

Cheri also recommends doing a featured post in combination with a giveaway because your engagement will be much higher.  In addition, you can offer a custom discount code to that community and this will allow you to track the success of that feature based on how many customers use that code.

Mei recently moved over to Shopify, but before that she used a self-hosted e-commerce platform.  She asked each customer how they found out about her.  The majority of her customers came from Facebook, with Instagram coming in at a close second.  So even though Mei couldn't directly track Instagram sales she could easily tell that many of her customers were coming from the platform.

Mei reminded us that there are many marketing strategies that you can't directly track - for example, giving out business cards at a craft show or a friend telling another friend about your shop.

There's another barrier to marketing on Instagram - you only have one clickable link which is in your profile. However, Mei says you can counter this resistance by selling directly on the platform. You can ask followers to comment with their Paypal email address to purchase an item and be invoiced via Paypal.  Beth Newitt has successfully done this as well.

Spreesy.com allows you to bring your entire shop over to your Instagram profile, and you can do this on Facebook as well.  It counters the barrier of only having one link to click on.

Link your Spreesy account to Instagram or Facebook and when someone comments with their paypal email address to purchase the product, you don't have to manually send them an invoice, spreesy just automatically sends the invoice to them and tells them how to check out.  You're meeting people where they're already hanging out and not forcing them to leave a social media platform.

With Spreesy, people can subscribe to any new product that you're adding to your Instagram profile as well so they'll be notified when you come out with new items.

Other Resources

Check out Jill from Rustic Cuff's interview where she shared how she sends her products to Influencers for publicity and exposure.

A few Instagram accounts who feature handmade products that might be worth checking out.  For many of these accounts, a feature that stays up forever costs just $25.

@helloimhandmade

@hellolovehandmade

@handmadeloves

@favehandmade

Find Cheri and Mei online!

Cheri Tracy: Orglamix.com

@Orglamix on Instagram

Mei Pak: CreativeHiveCo.com

@TinyHandsJewelry and @CreativeHiveCo on Instagram

Direct download: Episode2011520Instagram20and20Influencers_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:30am EDT

Can you take a tax deduction for cameras and computers you use both for your business and for personal use? Find out!

When you purchase a computer or camera for your business, are you unsure about how much you can deduct as a business expense since you use them for personal reasons as well?  The answer to that tax question awaits you below!

 

The Background

In Episode 107 we talked about Assets and Depreciation, and that information was the background information needed to help you understand this episode a little better.  Here's the cliff notes version.  An asset is something that provides benefit to your business for more than a year.  Computers and Cameras are assets, but paper and ink are not.

Normally when you purchase an asset, the IRS wants you to depreciate it, which means you record the expense over the period of time that you will be using the asset instead of recording the entire expense in the year you purchased it.  Splitting up the cost over several years is called depreciation.

Computers and Cameras

When it comes to some smaller "entertainment use" equipment, the IRS has some different rules.  These items - such as computers, cameras, and video recording equipment - are called  "listed property" by the IRS.

Business Use vs. Personal Use

The first thing you need to do is determine what percentage of the time you are using that equipment for business versus personal use.

Let's take the example of a camera that you purchase for your business.  You might use the camera for personal reasons such as taking pictures of your kids, but you also use that camera for product and blog photography.  The IRS wants you to create a log and track how much you use your camera for your business and how much you use the camera for personal purposes.

This splitting up of business and personal use for purchases was also discussed in our episode on Business Expenses for Bloggers, specifically materials and supplies.

Some Examples

As an example, let's say we purchase a camera for $2,000 and use it 75% of the time for the business.  Normally you would take 75% of the cost of the camera, $1,500, and depreciate that amount over the next several years.  The $500 is personal so that is not a tax deduction for your business.

But, if you use the camera over 50% of the time for your business, and in our example we did, the IRS has a rule where they will let you take that full business expense portion as a tax deduction in the year you purchased the item, instead of depreciating the cost over several years.  They call this a Section 179 Deduction.  All this basically means is that you can expense the business portion of the cost of the equipment all in one year, instead of spreading it out over several years through depreciation.

What if you don't use the equipment over 50% of the time for your business?  You can still depreciate the business portion, but you can't elect the Section 179 Deduction to take the expense all in the first year.

The Exception

If you have a computer that you keep exclusively in your IRS qualified home office, then 100% of that computer cost can be taken as a Section 179 deduction.  You can deduct the full cost of the computer as a business expense in the year you buy it, instead of depreciating it over the next 5-7 years.

A second example:  Let's say you buy a laptop for your business, but because it's mobile, you don't use it exclusively in your home office.  We'll say it cost $1,000, you keep a log, and you use it 90% of the time for business.  Because you use it over 50% of the time for business, you can elect the Section 179 deduction at the end of the year.  So 90% of the cost, or $900, can be deducted as a business expense on your tax return in the year you purchased the computer, instead of depreciating it and spreading out the cost over the next few years.  The 10%, $100, is just a personal expense, and is never a business tax deduction.

Don't Worry!

Electing Section 179 deductions takes place on Form 4562.  There is a maximum Section 179 deduction, but the maximum was $500,000 for 2014!

Don't get worried about all of these rules and forms.  If you use tax software (such as H&R Block or Turbo Tax) or use a tax professional, they will know what questions to ask you and what forms to fill out.

What you need to know is that when you buy equipment for your business, you need to determine how much you are using it for business purposes, and how much for personal reasons, so that you can take advantage of the tax rules.

I bet most of you are buying equipment, using it mostly for business, and not taking a deduction on your business taxes.  You are just eating that cost with your personal funds.  Don't do that now that you know you have a legitimate tax deduction!

Converting to Business Use

Let's say you bought an asset before you started your business.  You bought a $2,000 camera in 2014, but you didn't start your business until 2015.  Keep track of how you now use it for business and personal use.  The portion that you use for business, you can depreciate based upon the item's current fair market value (fmv).  So if the camera is now worth $1,000 in 2015, but you use it 75% of the time for your business, that's $750 you can depreciate over the next several years and get that tax deduction.

It will take time to track business and personal use of your equipment, but it is well worth it to legitimately save some money on your taxes.

Resources

The IRS Tax Guidance on Listed Property is found within Publication 587

What do you think?  Do you have any new deductions you can claim on your taxes this year?

-Sarah

In accordance with IRS Circular 230, we advise you that any discussion of a federal tax issue in this communication is not intended to be used, and cannot be used by any recipient for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed on the recipient under US federal tax laws.

Direct download: Episode2011420Listed20Property_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:01am EDT

Great tips for reviving a blog and taking from "ok" into a success with more blog traffic. Plus - getting your book into audiobook format is a lot easier and cheaper than I thought it would be! | brilliantbusinessmoms.com

Do you have a hobby that you'd love to turn into a business?  Listening to Addi may be just the boost you need to get going!  Addi had a hobby blog for several years, but one day, she decided it was time to get serious.  Did she ever!  In four months' time, Addi figured out how to boost her blog traffic from 10,000 pageviews per month to 100,000 pageviews a month.  Now she averages over 500,000 pageviews each month.  

Addi is a down-to-earth mom - just like you.  Listen to her story to hear her best advice - then go make some brilliant moves of your own!

On the Podcast

00:49 - How an Outlet Turned into an Income
02:56 - Simply Blogging Along... or is it?
04:21 - Starting Fresh
05:21 - Splitting Time Between Two Blogs
07:35 - Posting Frequency + Blog Traffic
09:28 - Pinterest Strategies
14:22 - This is Real Life, Folks!
16:19 - The Number One Tip for Bloggers
19:18 - Launching an E-book
21:30 - Why you Should Sell an Audiobook
29:10 - Using Woo Commerce
35:09 - Landing Pages
43:18 - Addi's Embarassing Mom Moment

 

Note: We use affiliate links in this post.  This means, at no additional cost to you, we earn a commission if you decide to purchase a product.  Affiliate links are noted with an asterisk * 

Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to Hear Addi's Full Story

How an Outlet Turned into an Income

Addi began her first blog, Frugal Fanatic, about three years ago.  It started as an outlet for her as a new mom who wanted to share about saving money and motherhood.  After two years of blogging just for fun, Addi got more serious about blogging and decided to turn it into a real business. She soon found she loved blogging and had a passion for it.  Not long after, Simply Blogging Along, her second web site, was born!

Simply Blogging Along... or is it?

Once Addi grew Frugal Fanatic into a successful blog, she received a lot of questions about blogging and business. Although she wanted to share what life was like as a mom blogger and small business owner, she knew her core readership at Frugal Fanatic likely wouldn't be a fan of her new focus.  They were used to content about motherhood and money saving tips.

So Addi decided to start a new blog where she could share about blogging and business and Simply Blogging Along was born.

We love the title of Addi's new blog, because she shares blogging tips that are honest, and genuine.  She's simply blogging along - growing as she goes.  But in other ways, blogging isn't simple at all!  Addi confessed that she has found it very tough to run two blogs at once.  She forgot about a lot of the little things involved in setting up a new site such as social media and networking with bloggers.

Starting Fresh

We were curious about whether Addi's past experience in successfully growing a blog made growing her new site a piece of cake, or whether it still felt like she was starting from scratch.
Addi confessed that while she's a step ahead in terms of the knowledge she's gained from growing Frugal Fanatic, she has found that the challenges in creating a new readership are still there.

It's not as though Addi's entire audience at Frugal Fanatic came right over.  She did grab a core group of readers, but she still has to work hard to gain new visitors to her site.  The other challenge that any site owner will face: getting to know your new audience and serving them well.  In order to grow her site, Addi knows she needs to provide her audience with the content they're looking for and not just write whatever she feels like writing that day.

Isn't that great advice for all of us?  Whether you're brand new or years into online business, you have to get to know your audience well and serve them well.  And... if you're thinking about starting a brand new site with a brand new focus, just remember, it will still take a lot of time and work to make it successful.

Splitting Time Between Two Blogs

Although building Simply Blogging Along is new and exciting Addi has to remember that Frugal Fanatic is her “bread and butter” so she can't ignore it. Balancing her time between both sites has been a struggle but Addi sticks to a schedule every week that helps her stay on track.

Addi has time blocks to work in the morning, during nap time, and in the evening.  Addie always uses her evening time block to write (she's trained her brain to do this!)  She creates a “must do” task list daily and uses this to guide each time block.

75% of Addi's time is spent on Frugal Fanatic and only about 25% on Simply Blogging Along. This is because her new blog is more relaxed, doesn’t have ads yet, and is growing only as quickly as she allows it.

Sticking to a schedule has been the most important way that Addi balances both blogs.

Posting Frequency + Blog Traffic

Addi used to post 6-7 articles per week on Frugal Fanatic but has cut that down to focus on writing higher-quality posts. Now Addi posts about 3-4 times per week on Frugal Fanatic.

After Addi decided to get serious about blogging, she was able to grow her site from 10,000 pageviews to 100,000 pageviews in just four months!

18 months later Addi now averages about 500,000 page views each month. She attributes her fast growth to using Pinterest to promote her blog. By putting in the time and having a solid plan, she has grown her blog readership and believes others can too.

Pinterest Strategies

Addi attributes a lot of her growth in traffic to Pinterest.  Here's what she does.

  • Use vertical images.  (Addi didn't even know to do this two years ago!)
  • Put great descriptions into the alt text on your photos.  This makes them compelling to someone on Pinterest and is great for those pins getting found more often on the site.
  • Overlay text on your images to make them stand out.
  • Pin more of other people’s content than your own.  (Addi says this main tip alone has helped her gain many new followers and readers.)
  • Don't spend all your time on Pinterest.  It's not necessary!  Addi spends 5 hours per week on Pinterest. This includes scheduling pins, manually pinning, creating pins, and following others.  (We love ViralTag for scheduling our pins*)

Addi has over 31,000 followers and 89 boards for Frugal Fanatic!

 

 

Mommy Blogger Addi Ganley made a commitment to her blog... and her numbers and income skyrocketed! | brilliantbusinessmoms.com
Addi with her adorable family

This is Real Life, Folks!

Although Simply Blogging Along is more focused on blogging and how to make money online, Addi found that it was important for her to include her “mom” life here as well.

When you're a mom, growing a business from home just isn't quite the same.  There's a huge balancing act at play, and Addi knows that struggle firsthand.

Addi wants to help her audience with their home lives, their parenting, and the entire balancing act of being a mompreneur.  And, she wants to acknowledge that although it's tough to be a work-at-home mom, it's very possible! So Addi shares real life.  She shows others how she balances running her household, being a mom, and running her business all on Simply Blogging Along.

Addi says her kids even help her with her blogs on occasion, and her oldest son now tells people that he's going to work from home when he grows up!

The Number One Tip for Bloggers

Write amazing content!  Write something that your readers will not only relate to, but will be compelled to share.

Provide value by solving your reader's everyday problems.

You may be able to entice someone to click over from Pinterest by simply using a great photo and a catchy headline, but they'll leave just as fast as they came if you don't have solid content to with which to back that pin up.

If you want to build a loyal readership and grow your email list, focus on posting less often but posting quality work.

Launching an E-Book

In June of 2015, Addi launched her book, Breakthrough: The Complete Guide to Growing your Platform and Blogging your Way to a Full-Time Income*  She shared several things she learned along the way.

  • Develop a clear plan of action.  Know exactly how and where you'll market your book, and give yourself plenty of time to take action on that plan.
  • Guest post.  Addi guest posted on a lot of related sites.  Those bloggers also shared about her book on social media.  All of Addi's guest posts resulted in a lot of traffic to her landing page on launch day.
  • Timing Matters.  Addi released her book just one month after launching, Simply Blogging Along.  So she hadn't had enough time to build up a loyal readership there so this probably decreased her overall sales numbers.

Why you Should Sell an Audiobook

We don't usually tell you "you should do this!"  We tend to be more balanced in our approach.  But in this case... I really think most of you reading this page should sell an audiobook!  Listen and read on to figure out why.

Addi has made the most sales by selling her book on her own site and through affiliates she works with.  On Amazon, Addi's e-book doesn't sell all that well, and she thinks she may need to learn a little more about Amazon SEO.

But here's the kicker: Addi has sold about 200 copies of her Audiobook, and that version has only been out for 6 weeks (as of our interview date).

At first, Addi never considered selling an audio version of her book, but after getting numerous requests, she's so happy she took the time to create it. She has sold about 200 Audiobooks in just 6 weeks of having it live on Audible* with very little promotion.

Addi found a woman on ACX Exchange and paid her $20 an hour to record her book which was 3.8 hours in length. So in all, Addi paid just under $80 to create the Audible version of her e-book!  That included the editing done by her narrator to format the book for Audible.

Here's Why Selling Audiobooks Might be a Great Idea:

  • Less Competition.  There are so many less search results in any given field within Audible as compared to e-books on Amazon.  Compare just 55 results for "blogging" in Audible to 10,435 results on Amazon!  Addi's book gets found more often on Audible.
  • Less Price-Gouging.  Most Audiobooks are priced at the same level, but on Amazon, an e-book can range from Free to $15!
  • Better Commissions.  Audible has a Bounty program, so when you refer a new member who sticks around for 60 days or more, you get a $50 credit.  For everyone else, Addi says the commission averages to about 50% of the retail price.  So in Addi's case, she can make about $7.45 for each book sale.
  • Easier than you think.  You've already done the hard work of writing a book.  Why not go the extra step to make more sales?  On average, Addi says people on ACX Exchange charge from $15 to $50 per hour of finished audio.
  • Reach more readers. There are some people who are just too busy to consume your book in a traditional format, but they have driving time and chore time to listen to you teach them.  Reach more readers with an audiobook.

Using Woo Commerce

Addie sells her e-books and products by using the Woo Commerce Plug-in on both of her sites.

Quick Facts:

  • The plug-in is free.
  • You only pay if you want a theme.  Addi paid $30 - a one-time fee- for her theme that she can then customize.
  • Use a sub domain for each blog (shop.frugalfanatic.com for example).  This makes the process easier and you'll avoid slowing down your main site.
  • Set up your affiliate program from within Woo Commerce. Affiliates can easily track their traffic, sales, and commissions.
  • Payment Options: You can connect PayPal or credit card payments through Stripe, along with several other payment options such as Cash On Delivery.

Sales Pages

Woo Commerce also has a landing page template that has lots of short code options so Addi can customize it.  It looks the same as Addi's old landing page that she paid for.

Shoppers can land on the landing page, or they can click and go straight to the cart.  Addi has been testing both options to see which converts better.  Overall, it seems like her customers like the shorter option better!

Then...we all proceeded to compare and contrast long versus short landing pages, the psychology of selling, and $1,000 courses :)  It was an interesting conversation!

Addi's Embarrassing Mom Moment

Addi's embarassing mom moment is something we've all experienced!  Oh boy... kids will be kids!  Tune in to hear the story!

Find Addi Online!

FrugalFanatic.com
SimplyBloggingAlong.com

(Our book on Audible! And, if you're brand new to Audible, use this link to get your first book free*)

Direct download: Episode2011320Addi20Ganley_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:46am EDT

Loved this!  A video chat with three mamapreneurs on how to grow a podcast.  Great tips for podcasting.  | brilliantbusinessmoms.com

This past week, Sarah and I tried out our first Blab, and it was so much fun!  Blab is similar to Periscope in that it's a live video streaming platform, but the fun thing about Blab is that you can have up to four people streaming at one time.  So... it's kind of like a Google Hangout on steroids!

You can follow people on Blab, invite others to be on the video with you, and viewers can chat live and ask questions.

We plan to Blab each week with a different brilliant business mom to answer questions and brainstorm how she can grow her business.  Head right here to follow us on Blab!   

For our first Blab, we chatted with Sarah Evans of the Bringing Up Betty Podcast to brainstorm ways to grow her podcast.  

We'll also post all of our Blabs on our Youtube channel.

Press Play on the player below to watch and listen to our first Blab, and we can't wait to see you live in the chat the next time around!

 

Ideas for Podcast Growth

  • Connecting with your ideal audience in Facebook groups
  • Message the managers of those groups to let them know about your relevant podcast interview and that their audience might enjoy it if they shared it
  • Reach out to bigger names in your niche.  Give them a helpful suggestion to share about the episode on the day that it airs.
  • Get more Ratings, Reviews, and Subscribers in iTunes because this helps your podcast ranking increase and therefore get found more often.  
  • Suggest that your listeners rate and review the show.  Show them how to do it on your blog.  Run a contest or giveaway so that everyone who leaves a review will be entered to win.  Make the prize relevant to them!
  • Use popular keyword phrases related to your episode in episode title and author fields.  (ex. Mamapreneur Erica Richards or Etsy Seller Angie Gordon.)
  • Use popular keyword phrases in the title and author field for your podcast as a whole.  (ex. The Smart Passive Income Podcast: Online Business | Blogging | Passive  Income | Pat Flynn, and Pat Flynn: Online Entrepreneur, Business Strategist, and Blogger)
  • Create great, Pinterest-Friendly cover images for your Show notes.
  • Use sites like PinGroupie.com or just head to Pinterest and follow leaders in your niche to discover Group Boards where you can pin your content.
  • If the Group Board Managers aren't responding to your request to join, just gently socially stalk them :)  Find their website, get their email address, and tweet at them or Facebook message them.  Eventually, you should get a response!  
  • Add blog posts to your site.  It can be really hard to get traffic to a page that's based on a podcast episode.  You generally don't have as many keyword phrases or as many ways to get found online.  But if you blog, you can tackle precise topics that will appeal to your audience and make Pinterest-Friendly images.
  • When it comes to blogging, use guest posters to fill out your site.  (This is an especially great idea for a Podcast like Bringing Up Betty which is all about creating community for special needs parents.)
  • Create your own Facebook Group for your niche.  Even if others exist, no one's group will be just like yours!

Resources Mentioned in the Blab:

The Bringing Up Betty Podcast

How to Subscribe to a Podcast in iTunes

Podcasting for Beginners by Buffer  

(Apparently the ideal length is 22 minutes, ideal format is weekly, and best day to air your episode is Tuesday.)

On Saying the Wrong Thing by Sunlit Pages

Rev.com - Transcription for $1 a minute

The Read-Aloud Revival Podcast with Sarah Mackenzie

(We love the way she has kids call in and talk about their favorite books.)

How to Start a Podcast by Pat Flynn

How to Podcast by John Lee Dumas

Direct download: Episode2011220Blab-20How20to20grow20a20podcast_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:06am EDT

Loved this honest chat!  Promoted Pins, SEO, Life as a Mamapreneur | brilliantbusinessmoms.com

This week, we're trying something new here at Brilliant Business Moms!  Sometimes, after the podcast interview officially "wraps" this is when we all breathe a sigh of relief, and we just start chatting freely!  

We had such a great chat with Erica Richards of Rainey's Closet that we wanted you to hear what happens "after the episode".

      On the Podcast we Chat About:

Direct download: Episode2011120Erica20Bonus_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:06am EDT

Brilliant business idea! | brilliantbusinessmoms.com

People will pay for convenience. If you add saving money to that convenience equation, then you've struck gold in your business! Erica offers both convenience and savings to customers of Rainey's Closet - an online rental company for kids' clothing.

Not every family will splurge for a full photo shoot complete with fancy outfits, but the ones who do know that pairing the right dresses and accessories can be a challenge. Add to that the incredible cost of those dresses and accessories, and Rainey's Closet is there to fill in the gaps.

Erica has such a unique business model - complete with its own challenges. But I know you'll find inspiration when you listen to her story. Whether you're reminded to head back to the trenches and spend more time with your target market, or you discover a brand new way to solve someone's problem, you won't want to miss hearing from Erica and what she's doing at Rainey's Closet.

On the Podcast

01:41 - How the Quest for Perfect Photos Led to the Perfect Business!
05:33 - First Steps to Building a Business and a Website
08: 52 - Partnerships with Vendors
10: 44 - The Initial Investment
13:13 - The Rental Process
16:00 - The Best Part of Erica's Job!
17:26 - Getting Great Photos
18:52 - How to Determine a Price
22:37 - Where do Customers Come from?
24:39 - Knowing your Target Market
28:00 - Changing Strategy
33:25 - Making Smart Business Decisions
34:46 - Erica’s “Secret Weapon”
38:53 - Erica's Funny Mom Moment

Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to Hear from Mamapreneur Erica Richards

How the Quest for Perfect Photos Led to the Perfect Business!

Erica Richards worked in marketing and public relations before deciding to be a stay at home mom once her daughter was born.

When Rainey was about 3 years old, Erica began receiving offers for various jobs but nothing seemed worth going back to work. She began looking for a creative outlet and way to use her talents.

Erica's light bulb moment came after a frustrating experience of spending a lot of time and money preparing her family for a photo session. She wanted gorgeous photos, and she searched and searched for the perfect outfits for her daughter. She ended up spending a lot of money on that outfit and accessories, and of course, after the shoot it just sat in Rainey's closet. It felt a bit wasteful.

Erica realized that finding and coordinating great outfits for children - particularly for their family photos - was a problem lots of moms were having. She came up with the solution of Rainey’s Closet. Erica had used “Rent the Runway” in the past for special occasions for herself, and she thought, "why couldn't this model work for kids' clothing as well?"

Rainey’s Closet started as a part-time side hustle and quickly grew to a successful full time business.

First Steps to Building a Business and a Website

In October of 2014, Erica began buying her inventory. She found that fall was a perfect time to start buying clothing and accessories for her business as there were many sales, and many moms were selling their clothing after completing their own photo shoots.

Erica then created a Facebook page, bought her domain name and set up her website. Intially, Erica got quotes for a custom website, but discovered that that option would be extremely expensive. So she and her web developer got creative. They found a great program to use as the base for their site. It was designed for clothing rental companies, so it had the right tools for inventory management and scheduling an order built right in. From there they customized the overall look, and Erica began adding inventory.

Erica admits that it took weeks and weeks of late nights getting photographs of all her inventory and adding it to the site. This has been the most time consuming and labor intensive part of her business, but it has certainly been worth it!

Partnerships with Vendors

Erica buys a lot of kids' clothing and accessories from Etsy shops and small boutiques. For this reason, she purchases the majority of her items at full price and pays up front for them.

For many handmade items, there's simply no discount on the amount of time it takes a Mamapreneur to make the item. And because the items are handmade, Erica also needs to give the vendors a month or more of lead time for an order of, let's say, 15 flower crowns, for example.

However, there are a few companies that offer wholesale prices to Erica, such as Tutu du Monde.

How to Find the Best Items

Erica finds her vendors by looking at trends in kids' photography and fashion and watching what other photographers are using. Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook are all great places to find out what's trending, what moms are talking about and seeking out when it comes to fashion, and what everyone is drooling over!

Just one example of the gorgeous photo shoots that happen with dresses from Rainey's Closet. Photo by Daria Kielek Photography Dress by Dollcake Vintage
Just one example of the gorgeous photo shoots that happen with dresses from Rainey's Closet. Photo by Daria Kielek Photography. Dress by Dollcake Vintage

The Initial Investment

Erica has invested tens of thousands of dollars into her inventory over the past year and far underestimated the investment that would be required! But once she and her husband realized that the business would work and there was enough demand for their service, they felt confident enough to keep buying more items in order to keep growing.

As long as Erica purchases at a rate that stays consistent with demand, her business remains profitable. Since so much of her money is tied up with physical inventory, she feels confident that if necessary, she would be able to recover her money and liquidate easily. Thankfully, this isn't necessary and the business is doing great!

Having a large inventory in the clothing rental business is essential to attracting and keeping customers on her site. It is important that a customer is able to find the size, style, and availability they need.

The Rental Process

Clothing rental might seem like a foreign concept to some customers! We asked Erica to explain how the process works.

Customers browse the site to find what they want then choose the appropriate size and the dates needed. Rentals are available for either 4 or 8 days. Customers pay the rental price and a $6 flat shipping fee that includes a prepaid return shipping label for convenience. The shipping stays at $6 no matter how many items the customer orders.

For example, if you have an event or a photoshoot planned for October 10th, you would choose October 8th for your delivery date. So then you'll have two days to try on outfits and pair accessories, use it on the 3rd day, and return your items on the 4th day.

Erica does not charge customers for normal wear and tear, such as a bit of sand or one sequin falling off. But she does have a detailed terms and conditions page that outlines a 200% charge for an item that is not returned or is damaged beyond repair.

The Best Part of Erica's Job!

In addition to being a brilliant business woman, Erica has the added benefit of being a stylist in her job as well. She often gets questions from customers on which accessories will pair well with certain dresses or outfits. She gets to offer exceptional customer service by providing great recommendations, and, let's be honest, it's pretty fun to play stylist too!

Erica also gets to style items for her own photo shoots and social media as well.

Getting Great Photos

Erica has dozens of gorgeous photos on her site that really showcase how her clothing can be used. So.... does Erica have to schedule her own photo shoots each month to get all of these incredible photos?

Nope, they're actually a mix! Erica takes some of the product photos herself or with a photographer she hires, but some of her larger vendors like TuTu du Monde and Nelly Stella create campaigns specifically for their sellers to use.

At the same time, customers tend to prefer the less “styled” photos so they can see the items on a “real” child and see how the item will fit and get a sense of its true colors.

How to Determine a Price

For her clothing, Erica has a general pricing formula that she uses for her rentals. She takes into account how many times she will be able to rent each item before it is no longer usable. She needs to make her investment back on the product after "X" number of rentals - a number she's comfortable with that allows for a reasonable customer price, and a reasonable profit for her.
Pricing for accessories is more based on intuition and thinking about how much she herself would be willing to pay to rent the items. Some of the capes and shrugs can be almost as expensive as a dress, but she knows a parent wouldn't be willing to pay quite as much for this "accessory" as they would for a dress.

Overall, renting from the site costs a mom about 25% of what a full outfit would cost if purchased outright. Renting also prevents a lot of waste and buying items that will only be worn once.

For example, a Tutu du Monde dress can cost $160-$230, add a cape for $100, a flower crown for $50, that adds up to a minimum of $310. But you can rent all of this from Rainey's Closet for about $60. So you've just saved yourself $250, or just 19% of what you would pay at full retail price.

This ensemble would cost about $400 at retail. Or just $52 to rent from Rainey's Closet.

This dress, shrug, and headdress would cost close to $400 at retail.  Or you can rent all three from Rainey's Closet for $52.  That's an 87% discount. Photo by B Couture Photography.

Where do Customers Come from?

A lot of Erica’s customers come from either photographers referring moms or photographers themselves. Photographers don't want to shoot the same-old, same-old. They know that a styled shoot will turn out better and showcase their work. On the other hand, they don't want to tell a parent that they need to spend hundreds of dollars in addition to their photography fees! Rainey's Closet offers the perfect solution.

About 50% of Erica's business comes directly from photographers who rent out the items for families to offer them exceptional customer service and guarantee great photos. The rest of her customers are moms. Customers find Erica on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and also when searching for specific brands. Erica has some styles that are hard to find because they're from last year and the brand no longer sells them. Moms who are looking for that "one perfect dress" can often find it on Erica's site.

Knowing your Target Market

When Rainey was about 2 Erica began getting involved with the “closet mom” world. She finds popular brands by watching what moms are talking about on social media. Moms also start Buy, Sell, Trade Facebook groups around certain popular brands. There are so many boutique brands who only make a limited quantity of each item, so moms go hunting all over the place looking for them or offering to buy them from other moms for hundreds of dollars!

Erica also looks at what photographers are using in their photo shoots. She has done a great job of immersing herself in the world of her target market as a way of staying current with what they are looking for.

Changing Strategy

Erica began joining Facebook groups and interacting on brand pages so that when moms were looking for something that was hard to find she could send them to her page. She quickly realized that this is not allowed in most Facebook groups, so she has had to change her strategy.

Now, Erica has her own private Facebook group for marketing and selling her “older” items. It's a great way to get rid of inventory she doesn't need and attract her ideal customers who are able to use her group to buy and sell items as well. Erica's group has over 1,000 members, and she knows it will continue to grow.

I love that Erica didn't let one marketing set-back get her down. She just decided to create the perfect marketing tool for herself instead!

Erica also counts on word of mouth marketing from her customers. They'll often comment on her Facebook posts and tag their friends saying, "this is the business I was telling you about!" Erica always goes the extra mile for her customers. For example, if an item suddenly becomes unavailable because it was damaged, she'll quickly go pay full retail price for that item to keep her customer happy and give them what they want.

Making Smart Business Decisions

Since Erica orders in the spring for her fall season, she has found that predicting what will be popular is quite difficult. Because of this, Erica often tests the market first by ordering just one item. If that dress or accessory becomes popular, she then goes back and orders more.

There's no better way to figure out what your target customer wants than to simply put something out there and see how they respond! Armed with information and sales, Erica can make smart business decisions.

Erica’s “Secret Weapon”

Three times in the past year Erica has run into an issue with a customer not returning an item. While this can be extremely detrimental and devastating to small business owners Erica’s husband is a lawyer. When an issue comes up with a customer Erica is able to have him send a legal letter out and begin the legal process with no high costs and hassle. So far she has recovered the items thanks to her “secret weapon”.

Erica's Funny Mom Moment

You'll have to tune in to hear how Erica's strong-willed little girl Rainey has leveraged that will into a way to make an income at just four years old. We were cracking up!

Find Erica Online!

RaineysCloset.com

You can also find gorgeous photo shoot inspiration on Erica's social media channels. She's Rainey's closet on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.

Direct download: Episode2011020Erica20Richards_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:13am EDT

Such a fun podcast episode! Great tips on organizing paper and getting more done as a mamapreneur | brilliantbusinessmoms.com

What if you could expand your business by putting yourself in a box and reaching more people? It may sound like science fiction, but in many ways, Lisa has found a way to do this very thing! It comes as no surprise that a professional organizer and productivity nut would find many unique ways to reach more people without spending more time to do it.

On the Podcast

00:54 - 9 Businesses with One Thing in Common
04:03 - Becoming a Pro
06:12 - There are a Million Ways to Monetize!
08:16 - Lisa in a Box!
10:29 - 3 Keys to Lisa's Success
13:22 - Think Outside the Box with Outsourcing
19:12 - Validation as Mamapreneurs
21:17 - Organization for Mamapreneurs
23:55 - The Sunday Basket
25:40 - How Blogging Brings Clarity
30:54 - A Simple Method for Efficient Blogging
35:19 - Paying for Emails?
40:45 - Bloggers can Sell on Etsy too!
42:20 - Lisa's App
47:01 - Lisa's Awesome Mom Moment

Press play on the podcast player below to hear Lisa's best organization tips and to learn how she helps more people in less time with her business, Organize365.

9 Businesses with One Thing in Common

Lisa comes from a long line of entrepreneurs. Her great-grandmother went to college well before that was the norm for women and ultimately owned her own floral shop! Her dad's side of the family had a similar bent towards owning their own businesses.

There was never any question that Lisa would go to college, but she knew that in the end she'd be an entrepreneur. Lisa viewed college not as a way to get her ideal job (she could create that all on her own!) but to get her MRS. degree. Yep, she knows it's not politically correct and confesses that she should have come of age in the fifties!

Lisa was a teacher before she had kids, but she also did direct sales. Once her children came along, she quit her teaching but continued on with direct sales. She then added tutoring, cleaning houses, and scrapbooking to her list of entrepreneurial endeavors! Lisa's business ventures got so crazy that at one point she had 9 schedule C's on her tax return! (My head is spinning just thinking about it!)

Finally, in 2012 after a really rough time period for her immediate and extended family, Lisa sat down to think about what she really wanted to do. She knew she was great at sales, but the question was, what did she want to sell? Where did her gifts and passions lie?

Lisa found the common thread in all of her business pursuits: organization! She got her teaching job because her co-teacher was so disorganized they needed Lisa to come in and organize the classroom. She then went on to organize the whole school!

Lisa's scrapbooking business was so productive for her and her clients because she helped them get organized first.

Lisa even wrote an e-book on direct sales called: How to Organize the Business of Direct Sales.

She had it! Lisa starting a professional organizing business and launched her website Organize365 in January of 2012.

Becoming a Pro

Lisa knew she was good at teaching and coaching, so she used that skill to create great content on her blog that would help others.

Even though she was passionate about helping others get organized, Lisa still hadn't realized she was "expert enough" to call herself a professional and get clients. Instead, she was making money by doing direct sales and hosting parties for organizational supplies.

Lisa's house parties were huge, and she couldn't figure out why so many people wanted to attend just to buy some plastic bins! Her friend said, "Everyone wants to know what a professional organizer has to say!"

It finally dawned on Lisa that she was a pro at this, and she'd better start acting like it. In April of 2012 Lisa started doing professional organizing full-time and her business was profitable right away.

In January of 2013, Lisa added her first team member to her in-home organizing team. In the Fall of 2013, she hired another person to work in her business, and she's hired several other team members since then.

There are a Million Ways to Monetize!

It's easy to look at other bloggers and think that replicating their business model will work for us. This isn't always the case! We each have different strengths, different tools at our disposal, and a different audience we're serving.

Lisa quickly grew her in-person organization business, but she wanted to monetize her blog too. She saw lots of bloggers making money from couponing, advertising, and working with brands.

She tried these methods a bit, but they didn't seem to work well for Lisa's audience or her skill set. She realized that she's better as a teacher, so she created more e-books to sell.

In 2012, Lisa wrote 10 steps to organize paper. Next, she wrote an e-book about her Sunday basket. Then Lisa got the rights back to her first published book called the ABC's of the Bible.

Continuing with her model of teaching, Lisa added a podcast just over a year ago.
(In true Lisa-style, she couldn't have just one, Lisa has 3! Successful Direct Sales, Organize365, and Professional Organizer's Think Tank.)

And finally, Lisa maintained her skill at direct sales, but she took a different, more modern approach. Rather than host home parties and assembling teams of sales people, Lisa used these great companies as affiliates on her blog.

Lisa in a Box!

If you're a great teacher or coach, I bet some of your clients have wished they could package you up in a box, order you online, and have you right there with them! Well, Lisa has done just that with her first physical product!

It's called Get All Your Papers Organized in One Weekend. 

Lisa combines the knowledge you need to get started, the motivation in the form of her walking you through each step via audio CD, and the tools needed shipped right to you. There are quick-start guides so you don't have to read the full e-books if you don't want to, 3 sets of slash pockets and 2 ONE clips (both of these are a big part of Lisa's organizational system, so you don't have to hunt them down at the store), Sunday planning printables, and Organize 365 printables.

Could you come up with a way to help your long-distance customers by packaging yourself in a box? I bet you could!

3 Keys to Lisa's Success

Lisa points to 3 key strategies that help her grow her business and keep it profitable.

  1. Create a team! Lisa has several great team members who work for her. One person edits everything Lisa does. (She confessed that she can't spell and doesn't understand the rules of grammar!) Then Lisa hired someone to take over her Pinterest account. Can you believe that Lisa hasn't pinned a single thing from her account that has over 20,000 followers? Lisa hired someone to do all of that for her! Lisa also has someone who does everything for her podcast. She'll sit down and record 5 episodes in two hours, then send them off to Amanda who edits and does everything else!
  2. Find your money-maker. For Lisa, being a professional organizer has been the most profitable endeavor, and she was able to make money quickly. That one profitable branch of her business can easily fund everything else she's done
  3. Whatever you focus on expands! You can't focus on 10 things at once, so you'll have to pick which aspects of your business you want to grow the most. Right now she's focusing on her paper organizing kit, so of course, that's what's making the most money right now.
    Lisa focuses on one big thing each month and then four smaller things. For example, next week Lisa is focused on getting her products into the Amazon store and figuring out shipping. Next week, she'll work on her 31 organizing videos for October. She's uploading them directly to Facebook each day to see if she can grow her Facebook following from 7,000 to 20,000 fans.

    In November, Lisa won't focus on Facebook as much. She likes to go really deep on a tiny thing and then analyze things a few months later to see what aspects of her business are worth the continued investment.

(Lisa's strategy for managing her time and new business ventures sounds so similar to Rachel Coley's. Sarah and I both agree that it's a great approach, and we use it for our business too! We can't do it all.. as much as we'd like to!)

Think Outside the Box with Outsourcing

Lisa highly recommends the book, Virtual Freedom by Chris Ducker. In the book, Chris tells readers to make 3 lists.

  1. Write down the things you hate doing. (This could be cutting the grass, cleaning your house, or editing your blog posts.)
  2. Write down the things you're struggling to do on your own. (Perhaps building your website or designing your logo.)
  3. Write down the things you feel, as a business owner, that you shouldn't be doing on a day-to-day basis. (Chris says this list is the most important! It could be editing your photos or posting on social media. Maybe it's shipping your orders out the door. Even if you enjoy doing these things, your time may be better spent elsewhere to grow your business.)

Lisa is a productivity nut! She wants to squeeze an extra task out of the hour and an extra minute out of every hour!

Lisa says that mompreneurs often miss important things they can outsource that would give them more time for their business. She has a list of 10 household tasks you can outsource.

You might feel guilty about this at first, but you have to think outside the box. If you outsource cleaning your house for $60-120 a week, you'd save yourself 5 hours a week of work. So Lisa looks at it this way: can she make at least $120 in that 5 hours of extra time? The answer for her is an absolute yes because she can work with a home organization client for $300 during that time.

Ask yourself, "How much does it cost me to do that task, and how much does it cost someone else to do that task?"

Another creative outsourcing solution:

Lisa says, "don't outsource your parenting," but she does recommend getting help with the kids when they're little. Lisa used to hire a nanny on Wednesdays from 8 AM to 6 PM. Lisa was able to get 10 hours of productive, quiet work time for just $120. That was totally worth it! And in 10 hours of dedicated time, Lisa was able to plow through a ton of work versus working every naptime for 1.5 hours each day and feeling like you're not getting anywhere. If you don't have any funds for a sitter, consider swapping with a friend. You take her kids one day a week, and she takes yours on another. Then, you both get dedicated work time, and your kids have fun with their friends!

How to make the most of your work time:

Lisa recommends creating a work basket. As you think of tasks to do for your business, write them down and put them in your work basket. If you think of something to tell your business partner, just write it down and put it in the basket. Emails you have to respond to? Put them in the work basket! Then, when you've got your dedicated chunk of time, you know just what to tackle without getting sidetracked or distracted. You can plow through those little to-do's much faster than you realize when they're all in one place waiting for you.

Validation as Mamapreneurs

Another important mental aspect of having a dedicated time to work is that it gives your job some validation. It's earned a place on your calendar. You've made room for it. It's not just a casual gig anymore.

Sarah and I had our own esoteric discussion here about validation as Mamapreneurs. When Sarah filled out the paperwork for her daughter's orthodontist appointment, she put homemaker as her occupation. But she thought to herself today, "I should put self-employed!"

I agree, and I laughed and confessed that I've put "self-employed" on every bit of paperwork I get the moment we decided to launch our podcast!

It often takes quite a while (and maybe it will never happen!) for others to recognize your home business as valid, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't recognize it as such. (It's valid, brilliant business mom! We believe in you!)

Organization for Mamapreneurs

Lisa says it's so important for Mamapreneurs to write down their biggest goal for the week, and then no more than 3 top goals for each day for the home and for their business. She's created a free printable for you to try to organize those top tasks as well as get your week organized each Sunday!

When you start planning your top goals, you'll realize that email and social media don't often make the list, but without a plan, those tasks easily creep into the first place spot each day.

Lisa also blocks off one work day each week to spend 6-8 hours on something that will grow her business to another level. So, for example, getting her products on Amazon, or creating new videos or a new product.

The Sunday Basket

Lisa's main method for organizing paper involves something called, "The Sunday Basket. It's a basket, box or bag that you keep on your kitchen counter. Every bit of paper that you receive, along with other simple to-do's goes into this basket. For example, a bill that doesn't need to be paid right that second, paperwork from the kids' school, an item to return to Walmart.

On Sunday after the kids are in bed, take out every single thing, touch it and ask, "can this wait until next Sunday or does it need to be done this week?" Everything that must be done that week should have a plan for action. In this way, all of your paperwork and to-do's are in one, manageable place, and you only tackle the things that need to be tackled, without forgetting anything along the way.

How Blogging Brings Clarity

Once you start blogging regularly, you'll quickly realize that it can clarify what you're good at and what your readers respond to.

Lisa quickly realized that she was constantly talking about organizing paperwork, and her audience really responded. A bonus of this is that Lisa ranks really high in Google for terms related to organizing paper because no one talks about it! People discuss going paperless or they simply pretend all that paper doesn't exist.

Lisa has dug deep when it comes to organizing paper. Here's what she recommends:

  1. Gather up every piece of paper from your whole house. The papers on your nightstand. Your kids' art work, receipts...everything!
  2. Put it all into a laundry basket (or two!) Lisa says that people generally start with 2 full laundry baskets and by week 6-8 of organizing their paper they get their Sunday Basket down to a manageable size.
  3. Tackle a new paper challenge with Lisa each week. She'll walk you through all the different items you'll find in your basket: what to do with cash, projects, receipts, and more.
  4. Keep going. Lisa gets that no one wants to do paper! It's hard for her to get clients to do it even when she's standing right there with them! But if you can get a handle on the kitchen counter paperwork, you'll feel like Supermom! It's worth it!

 

A Simple Method for Efficient Blogging

When Lisa started blogging in January of 2012, all she knew was that she needed to be consistent, she needed to have a niche, and she needed to create content.

She came up with the idea of a series in order to be consistent and help others get organized right along with her. The challenge is called: 40 Weeks, One Whole House.

Lisa divided her house into 40 zones, and she tackled a different zone each week. The next year, Lisa did the challenge with her readers again, but this time she hired a professional photographer to take better photos of her work. The year after that, Lisa did the 40-week challenge again but this time she added a podcast so her readers could hear her talking as though she was right there with them helping them organize their homes.
Lisa says it takes going through the challenge about 3 times to really make your home look great!

Sarah and I both LOVED this genius strategy of creating awesome, helpful content but just adding a bit more each year. Lisa says there are only so many ways you can organize a laundry room. So rather than write 16 fluffy blog posts on the topic, she writes one killer post that motivates her readers to take action.
Is there an insanely helpful series you can create for your readers and then repeat on your blog, year-after-year?

Paying for Emails?

This year, Lisa decided to offer her 40-week challenge as an email auto-responder series as an added help for her readers. The problem was, she was using Mailchimp, and when she received new participants, they could start at week 1, but they couldn't skip ahead and join the whole group of challengers if they wanted to.
Lisa decided to switch to InfusionSoft which offers both options for a new subscriber. Then, no matter where someone signed up, everyone will be back at week 1 together the next Fall.

Because Infusionsoft is quite expensive, Lisa knew she had to justify this expense. She charges a one-time fee of $40 for the 40-week email series. Once you pay for the series, you'll get it forever until you unsubscribe.
Lisa knew if she could sell just 5-10 of these email subscriptions each month, that would pay for Infusionsoft. She's more than met that goal! She's not getting hundreds of sales, but the people who do sign up really love it. Everything they need for each week's challenge is all in one place, and they just click the link in their inbox.

Bloggers can Sell on Etsy too!

Lisa's not a handmade maven, but she does have a lot of digital products (and a physical one now too!) that she wanted to sell all in one place. Lisa decided to open an Etsy shop as the hub for her products.
Her shop, Organize365, has been open since May of 2014 and she's had over 700 sales to date. Some of Lisa's products cost over $90 too!

If you're a blogger struggling to create a beautiful storefront for your products, consider opening an Etsy shop and linking right to it from your blog. It's so easy to get started, and Etsy makes the shopper experience a bit more user-friendly and streamlined than many of the cheaper apps you could use on your own site.

If you're a coach or expert in a given field, Etsy can be the perfect place to make more passive income. Lisa took all of her coaching and teaching knowledge and turned it into digital products. Not everyone can afford to use her as a coach, and not everyone lives close enough to have Lisa organize their home in person, but with digital products and Etsy, Lisa can serve her audience in more ways.

Lisa's App

Lisa is always looking for ways to better serve her audience and make life easier for them. In the Spring of 2015, she decided to have an app developed for her 40-week organizing challenge.

Lisa paid $2,000 for the app and pays $50/month for hosting. Her app is available for both android and ios. Inside the app, Lisa's challengers can find the podcast and blog post related to that week's challenge without searching and without being distracted by all the other content on her site.

The coolest thing about this app? Lisa can send out push notifications whenever she wants! She can tell people, "hey it's week four, tell me if you're going to sell or donate your items this week!" Their app will show a red circle to let them know there's something new to see.

From the app, Lisa's challengers can link straight into her Facebook group and chat with each other. LIsa says, "it's so hard to organize your house by yourself. The community aspect really helps."

How's the app going? Lisa says she has about 3,000 users right now, and they're equally split between android and ios. She's still not sure if the app itself will be a revenue generator or not. At this point, she doesn't charge for it.

Right now, the app is just serving her current audience better and allowing her to connect with them in a new way. Lisa believes that all of the 3,000 users were people who were already on her email list or listening to her podcast. They haven't found her organically at this point, but the app has only been out for 6 weeks.

We can't wait to see how the app continues to grow and serve her audience! What a cool idea!

Lisa's Awesome Mom Moment

When your teenage son respects what you do, you know you're on the right track! Tune in to hear what Lisa's son told her recently!

Stay in Touch with Lisa!

Lisa has created a special page just for Brilliant Business Moms Listeners. It has the Sunday basket printables to help you organize your week and a checklist for anyone interested in becoming a professional organizer.
Head to Organize365.com/brilliant

Other links mentioned in the episode:  Our super secret freebies page for our email subscribers.

Direct download: Episode2010920Lisa20Woodruff_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:20am EDT

LOVE. Awesome way to save time and money creating great photos and using mock-ups. | brilliantbusinessmoms.com

What if you could create beautiful photos... of 100 products...in minutes? No, you're not dreaming! Using Photoshop and Smart Objects makes it possible. Sarah Guillot has worked with these tools for years as a User Experience Architect (how cool does that job sound?!) and now she has her own side gig helping Mamapreneurs like you and me use Photoshop for business to make our lives easier and faster.

On the Podcast

00:52 - Architecture for Users
04:26 - Solving a Real Problem Inside a Make-Believe World
08:57 - Not all Mock-ups are Made Equal
14:02 - What Makes an Object Smart?
24:12 - Photoshop Perks
29:23 - Help for Photoshop Newbies
31:44 - Silhouette Studio
34:00 - Sunshine Sticker Co.
38:24 - It's only a Season
39:57 - The Most Requested Podcast (for 5-7 year-olds!)

Architecture for Users

In October of 2014, Sarah Guillot launched her first side gig. But she's still working full time during the day as a User Experience Architect (UX Architect for short) Essentially, Sarah helps big companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and GoDaddy figure out how to create the best possible experience for users traveling through their website.

She works on user flows, wire frames (a demonstration of how a website will look and function) and works on landing pages to optimize them for sales or other conversions.

Despite her brilliant day job and experience with the online world, Sarah says she had all sorts of fears that held her back when it came to starting her own business. There were so many unknowns she'd never dealt with before - getting a business license, figuring out taxes, and lots of other little details.
Although friends have been raving about Sarah's crafty presents for years and encouraging her to open an Etsy shop, she didn't drum up the courage to do it until her kids came along. Sarah has two little girls, age 5 and 7 years old, and she knows how precious her time with them is. She wants more time at home with them and less time answering to a manager!

In October of 2014 Sarah purchased an online course for writing and publishing e-books. She followed it step-by-step until she learned about marketing her book and getting reviews. Unfortunately, Sarah felt that the course creator was encouraging her to get reviews in a way she thought was unethical. So Sarah didn't have the huge book launch she wanted, but she did get her books out into the world.

After that iffy experience, Sarah shifted directions and started making printables in the Fall of 2014. She thought it was the perfect time to jump on board since everyone would be buying Christmas printables to decorate their homes. Despite her best efforts, over the next six months Sarah wasn't getting much traction on her printable sales. The niche is so crowded already, and there are many beautiful ones available for free online. Sarah realized she'd have to drive a ton of traffic to her shop to really make a living selling printables. In the meantime, Sarah realized there was a big problem in her niche that she could solve!

(Ever notice how the path to business success isn't always straight and smooth? Sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error to find the right niche, or a problem that demands a solution. Don't give up, Brilliant Business Mom!)

Solving a Real Problem Inside a Make-Believe World

When Sarah was setting up her printables shop, she used Photoshop to make mock-ups so she could quickly and easily show case her printables.

Sarah quickly realized that there are many Etsy sellers in all sorts of field who can benefit from mock-ups to showcase their work in a realistic way.

So What's a Mock-up?

A mock-up means taking an image, such as a frame, mug, book, or t-shirt (often with beautiful props alongside it!) and putting your digital design right onto that image to show how your designs or creations will look in real life.

Mock-ups are perfect for T-shirt designers or drinkware designers who don't want to do a photo shoot for every new design they create. They use their digital design (without even making the product) and place it onto the beautifully styled photography scene.

Not all Mock-ups are Made Equal

Sarah looked around at the styled stock photos currently available and realized there was a big gap for sellers who create more unique items. There aren't nearly as many mock-ups for products that don't go into a frame. Mason Jar Mug sellers, glass sellers, mug sellers, and other vinyl decal sellers didn't have as many beautiful photos to choose from, and if they did find a great photo, they weren't sure how to get their designs into the photo and have them look natural.

One great way Sarah researched this niche and knew which problem to solve was by participating and listening in many Facebook groups. Sarah joined many groups for Etsy sellers and noticed that 5-10 people every day were asking about mock-ups. They'd wonder, "How do I make a mock-up? What are mock-ups good for? Who can find styled stock photos that fit my product?"

Sarah began solving their problems and answering their questions by recording Youtube tutorial videos and posting them on her blog.

Finally, Sarah created a Mock-up Design Essentials Course. The course has short videos that add up to about an hour of tutorials along with photoshop template files that have pre-styled scenes.

The Differentiator

Sarah differentiates herself from other styled stock photo sellers in two key ways.

  1. She offers tutorial videos so that a seller can turn any lovely stock photo into a smart object where their designs can be easily overlaid. So, they're empowered to be as creative and unique as they want to be!
  2. Sarah's templates all include smart objects, so the colors and placement of the objects in her scenes can be altered. You can't do this with a regular stock photo!

What Makes an Object Smart?

So... we're pretty sure these objects in photoshop don't have an IQ of 145. What makes them smart?
A smart object turns a layer in Photoshop into something that can easily accept a new design element without changing its basic structure. (Sounds a little confusing, right?! It's easier to give an example than to talk about smart objects in theory.) Here we go!

If you have a styled scene full of cute little desk accessories and you want to lay your printable (pretty piece of paper in digital form) on top of a desk, this is very tricky to do because the angle of the image will be quite different than your flat-rectangled printable.

You'll have to stretch, tweak, and mess with Photoshop for a while to get your printable design to look just right laying on the desk in the photo. But that's not the case if you turn that piece of paper into a smart object.

THEN, adding your printable design to the desk goes like this:

  1. Double click on the smart object layer in Photoshop
  2. A new tab will open up. You'll see a blank rectangle on this tab. You can past your printable design onto this rectangle.
  3. Hit save and close the tab.
  4. Your printable is automatically placed into the image on the table at exactly the right angle. No weird distortions necessary!

Smart objects are perfect in this instance for two reasons.

  1. Not everyone knows how to stretch and distort the perspective of an image to make it look natural in a photo.
  2. Smart objects allow you to work much faster. You can take 100 of your fabulous designs and plug them into your beautiful styled photo scene in no time. Voila! 100 new listings are ready to go in your Etsy shop, and to your customer, they look just as they would if they were photographed in real life.

An added benefit to using smart objects:

You can also use one smart across multiple Photoshop files. So then, if that object needs to be changed, Photoshop will automatically change all the other files that include that object for you.

Again, let's use an example so this makes more sense! If you're designing a website with a team of people and everyone is using the same header. (It's a smart object) Then one day someone says "we're going to change the header color" The team doesn't have to go in and edit 100 files that all include that header. They simply change the smart object for the header, and all the other files are automatically updated. (Is it just me or does that sound amazing?!)

To create a smart object, take that layer you want to turn into a smart object and save it as a.psb (This is the extension for a smart object versus .psd which is the typical photoshop file extension.)
Now, when that object is altered and saved, it's updated everywhere it's used.

For more help, you can check out all of Sarah's free video tutorials right here.

(If you're wondering if Adobe is worth the price, you should know that you can get a 1 month free trial, and after that you can get Photoshop and Lightroom for $10/month. We're not affiliates, we just use Adobe products regularly. Check out our interview with Kim VanSlambrook to hear how she uses Lightroom to save her loads of time when she takes real product photos.)

Photoshop Perks

So how does Photoshop stack up to the other great photo editing tools out there, like Canva and Picmonkey?

Sarah hasn't used Picmonkey in a while, but Beth Anne says adding your own fonts is easy, and arranging transparent pngs to get the perfect graphic design is a cinch.

Canva is great for typography. They have so many creative templates that you can plug your headlines into. They also have social media image sizes ready to go so you can save time.

Photoshop has some unique features that you can't find anywhere else. For one thing, their color correction tools are powerful, and you can color correct just one aspect of your photo while leaving everything else the same.

Working with layers in photoshop also means you can customize which aspect of your photo you edit, and you can shift layers around (like the png overlays I use in picmonkey).

Photoshop has powerful editing tools for other aspects of a photo as well, such as smoothing out blemishes, adding shadows, or erasing something.

Adobe products also work nicely together, so if you use Illustrator for graphic design, you can drag layers over into Photoshop for more editing.

If you're not sold yet, Smart Objects will put you over the edge. No other photo editing tool on the market can so quickly and easily take your design and place it perfectly on the right object in a photo.

Help for Photoshop Newbies

Sarah Korhnak mentioned in the interview that she probably wouldn't give Photoshop a try, because it just seemed way too complicated, and Picmonkey works great for her!

But... she may have been persuaded. Sarah Guillot says the beauty of Photoshop is that you don't have to know how to use every single feature in order to benefit from the program.

Sarah's course teaches sellers just what they need to know. You can get started and save yourself tons of time while simply ignoring the 100 other tools that you don't need at the moment.

For her course, Sarah focuses on helping sellers get their designs out the Silhouette program and into Photoshop, how to add those design to your smart object, and how to change colors, shift objects around in the mock-up scene.

Silhouette Studio

One of the most common groups of people who can benefit from Photoshop Mock-ups are those designers who use a Silhouette. What exactly is Silhouette, and what can it do?

Silhouette Studio is the name of the design program that accompanies Silhouette printers. The Silhouette Cameo is a printer that can print 12 by 12 inch sheets of vinyl designs, stickers, or other items. The Silhouette Portrait is a smaller printer that can work with letter-sized sheets of material.
Sarah says that Silhouette Studio tries to mimic Adobe a little bit. She says it's not too difficult to figure out the basics of designing with Silhouette, but even as an experienced designer she often turns to Youtube to learn a new trick!

A Silhouette costs about $200 to $250 for the machine and a few tools to print designs.

Sunshine Sticker Co.

One of the things we love about Brilliant Business Moms are the genuine friendships we make with brilliant women who are growing businesses. Our private Facebook group is such a positive, encouraging place, and for many women, it can be a jumping off point for developing their own masterminds or partnerships.

Sarah Guillot and Ashley Monda met through our private Facebook group and teamed up with a few other women to form a Mastermind. They hold weekly Google Hangouts to encourage each other.

When Sarah came up with her idea to help Etsy sellers with photography mock-ups, she turned to Ashley for feedback, because Ashley uses her Silhouette often to make party supplies.

After getting to know each other well, they both came up with the idea to get into the planner sticker market. (Planner stickers are huge these days!) Sarah could bring her design skills to the table, and Ashley could print and ship the stickers.

The more these ladies researched their new idea, the more excited they got. They got together on Google hangout and said, "Wait... are we really going to do this?" The answer...."Yes!"

Sarah and Ashley have never met in person, but their planner sticker business, Sunshine Sticker Co. has already launched! Sarah says she already knew Ashley well and developed a friendship with her. She knows all about her family, her business, and she knew Ashley had a great work ethic. They both live in Washington state, so in-person meetings are possible down the road.

We're so excited for Ashley and Sarah and can't wait to see how their business grows!

It's only a Season

Sarah is in an interesting place right now when it comes to combining business and motherhood. She's still working full-time, and she's also working like crazy to grow her new businesses.

She doesn't want to work 40 hours a week for someone else forever, but.... right now she's working 80 hours per week trying to grow her biz and work her day job! Sarah is often up past midnight working hard on her business.

She says it's a lot of juggling, and some days it just feels like way too much to take on. But Sarah is keeping the end goal in mind. It's just a season, and working 80 hours per week isn't the way her life will run forever.

(You got this, Sarah! We can't wait to see you kiss that day job goodbye!)

Sarah with her adorable family.
Sarah with her adorable family.

The Preferred Podcast for 5-7 Year-Olds!

This funny mom moment made our day! Sarah says she listens to a lot of podcasts while she drives her girls to school. Among her favorites are Pat Flynn, Flipped Lifestyle, and Brilliant Business Moms. She didn't realize how much her girls were paying attention to what was said until one of them asked if she could start a business someday. Sarah said, "Sure!"

Here comes the best part: Sarah turned on Pat Flynn one day and her daughter said, "I want to listen to that other podcast ..you know ..the mom podcast!"

Pat Flynn, we love you, but apparently Brilliant Business Moms is a little more popular among the elementary school crowd :)

(Pssst - that's not the first time we've been requested by little kiddos. Cheri Tracy's girls love us too. How fun!)

Stay in Touch with Sarah!

SarahDesign.com
Instagram: @SarahDesignMockups
SunshineStickerCo.com
Instagram: @SunshineStickerCo

Direct download: Episode2010820Sarah20Guilliot_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:06am EDT

Wondering if your purchase is a business expense or an asset? What's the deal with depreciation? Quickly learn these accounting basics for your small business!

Doing your business taxes can be a bit overwhelming.  So many boxes...so many terms you've never heard before!  Once you understand the accounting terms that the IRS uses, your taxes will feel way more manageable.

Let's take a brief moment to discuss the fun accounting terms of Asset and Depreciation.  These words come up a lot, especially as they relate to your tax return.  This year when the IRS comes knocking, you'll be ready.  A few big vocabulary words can't scare us away!

Expenses

In your business, most of your purchases are expenses.  An expense is something that gets used up rather quickly and therefore the benefit is used up quickly.  Some examples are ink and paper.  You buy them, and they get used up - they are expenses.  (FYI - we're not talking inventory and Cost of Good Sold here.  We'll discuss that at a later date.)

Assets

Sometimes when you make a purchase it's not an expense, its actually an asset.  An asset is something where the usefulness is used up over the course of several years. It provides a benefit over a longer period of time.  Examples include equipment, a camera, or a computer.

As an example, when you purchase a camera and use it to take product photos, it's providing a benefit to you over the course of much more than just one year.   That's the difference between an asset and an expense.  Does the purchase benefit you over the course of a long period of time?  An asset will help you continue to earn revenue over the course of several years.

Matching Revenues and Expenses

In accounting rules, revenue and its associated expenses should be recorded in the same period.  This is called matching.  Let's say you purchased a camera and recorded the entire purchase as an expense in the year you purchased it -- 2015.  But the camera helps you earn money in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 . . . a long time.  So the expense and the revenue aren't matched up together.   You've got revenue produced by the camera recorded over the course of several years, but the expense of the camera is only recorded in one year.  The revenue and expense are not matched.

Matching is a very important acconting principle, the revenue and associated expense need to be matched together.  This is where depreciation comes into play.  The way you get the revenue and expense to match up, is to depreciate that asset over the course of several years.

Depreciation

Lets say you bought a $5,000 computer, that expense needs to spread out over how long you think you will have that computer.  In other words, The expense needs to spread over the computer's useful life - the period of time that it will be of benefit to you.  Often for small equipment that's 3-5 years.  Let's say you think the computer will last you 5 years, (i.e. it has a useful life of 5 years) you take $5,000/5 years=$1,000 of depreciation you should take each year on that computer.

In this way you are spreading out the expense to match the revenue you earn in future years.

Depreciation also serves to show that the asset you purchased is losing value every year.  Let's say you are a florist who purchased a vehicle to deliver flowers.  It's only used for business.  You purchased the vehicle for $20,000 and you think it will last you for 10 years, so that's $2,000 of depreciation every year.  The car is helping you earn your revenue over the course of 10 years.   When you take that depreciation each year, you can see that that car is losing value every year.  After the first year of depreciation the asset is valued at $18,000, after the second year $16,000, and so on.

That makes sense in our heads.  A car loses value every year.  As the years go on, your asset is losing value.  Depreciation shows that declining value.

Related Terms

Other related terms you may have heard are long term asset, fixed asset, or capitalized.  This is similar terminiology to describe similar things.  When you hear someone say they are capitalizing an expense, it just means that they are treating it as an asset. That capitalized expense is actually an asset to their business, not an expense.

Any questions?  Leave me a comment and I'll answer your question to the best of my ability!

Sarah

Direct download: Episode2010720Assets20and20Depreciation20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:48am EDT

What happens when you combine an engineering degree with a talent for sewing? A beautiful business full of well-made products and streamlined processes is created!

Kim VanSlambrook is the solopreneur behind Lucy Jane Totes. What started out as a creative solution to a problem she faced quickly morphed into a beautiful business. Kim has moved her business across states and made some risky choices in the face of parenting two twin boys.

Sarah and I especially love the way Kim's engineering brain has developed a streamlined system for taking gorgeous, cohesive photos. Stay tuned to the end so you won't miss all of her photography tips!

On the Podcast

01:13 - Engineer meets Maker
06:05 - Ruthlessly Eliminate!
08:49 - Deciding on a "Look"
14:38 - Why Kim is the CEO and COO
10:20 - Kim's Risky Move
16:27 - Etsy versus Shopify
18:17 - How to Get Found
20:43 - Working on the Business
25:03 - Instagram vs Pinterest vs Facebook - It's War!
28:10 - Blogging for Business
31:10 - My name is Who, my name is What?
32:48 - The Creative Process
34:07 - Kim Takes all her Own Photos...of herself?
41:14 - Kim's Adorable Mom Moment

Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to Hear from Kim!

Engineer meets Maker

Kim has a civil engineering degree from Purdue University with an emphasis in structural design. But once she became a mom to twin boys, she put that engineering background to use in other ways. She had a problem that desperately needed a solution: her boys were too thin for their pants, and the only belt she could find was $18 at Janie and Jack.

That didn't fly with Kim. She knew she could create something better for less. She got to work, and soon her friends were asking her to make belts for them too.

Kim then used her structural design background to reverse engineer a bag in larger proportions for moms on the go. Kim found that the current tote bags on the market just didn't have enough space or durability to work for her. As she solved her own problem, once again, she had customers waiting to buy totes from her too.

Lucy Jane Totes was born, and Kim absolutely loves her business because she can work from anywhere. Her husband is also a civil engineer who works on bridge design. His job moves often because he has to go where the big bridge projects are, so in just five years' time, their boys had already lived in 5 cities and 3 states.

Lucy Jane Totes also gives Kim a sense of identity. No matter where she lives or how new and out of place she may feel, she has her business as a constant to fall back on.

Ruthlessly Eliminate!

Kim's business started with local sales. This was a great confidence booster for her, and made her realize she could make a go of selling products online. She started her Etsy shop several years ago, and initially, it was a hodge podge of items - pillowcase dresses, nursing covers, and tote bags, among other things.
After learning more about business and how to create a solid brand identity, Kim realized that she needed to focus more and ruthlessly eliminate (my words - not hers!) the items that didn't fit with her brand.

Kim chose to focus on her tote bags and make that her business. In the process, she eliminated all the other random items in her shop.

This was an especially risky and difficult decision, because at the time, Kim's nursing covers were being featured in Pregnancy and Newborn Magazine!

However, Kim had to streamline for a few reasons:

  1. A strong brand identity makes it clear to customers what you're about.
  2. Focusing on just a few things allows you to master your craft and produce the highest-quality items.
  3. At the time, Kim's boys were in preschool just a few days a week, and she didn't have any other child care available to her. She had to focus because she simply didn't have time to pursue every product idea.

Kim says when she ruthlessly eliminated other products, her sales took off!

Deciding on a "Look"

Kim's advice on choosing your brand identity is to determine what you want your overall "look" to be for your products and business.

As creatives and makers, it's easy to find new fabrics or product ideas that we just LOVE, but if it doesn't work together with the other items in your shop, you just shouldn't include it. Every new product you add needs to fit with your brand.

Kim's husband always reminds her that the most successful restaurants tend to have focused, small menus. It should be the same way with a handmade business.

Kim's Risky Move

Kim made another risky move in her business not long after deciding on her brand identity. She closed her shop for an entire year! The business was rolling along. She was getting a lot of sales and good publicity, but because she didn't have good child care for her boys, her work time was falling from 8-midnight each night.

Kim admitted that she started turning into "mean mommy. " She wasn't getting enough sleep and she felt pulled in every direction.

Kim asked herself, "what will I regret the most?" She knew that she would regret pushing hard on her business at the expense of her kids and family. Her relationship with her kids and husband matters most - so she took a break from the biz and just focused on them.

A year later, the boys were starting school and Kim's schedule was better. She got back to work on Lucy Jane Totes and says it was a great decision! She returned to her business with a new energy and focus on where she wanted things to go.
Perspective... it's just so important!

Why Kim is the CEO and COO

Kim hasn't outsourced very much in her business, and part of this is because she didn't have the best experience when she tried.

Last year, Kim set up her own website using the Shopify platform. Initially, she hired someone to create an e-commerce site for her, but it turned into a bit of a disaster because Kim had a very clear vision for how she wanted her site to look. (After all, she had refined her branding and knew what her business was all about!) The project was so far along that Kim ended up paying for a site that she never used.

That was her lesson. She loves learning , and she's not intimated by googling until she can figure out how to add a new piece of code. So Kim uses a template from Shopify and changes aspects of the template to suit her brand. By being her own COO, she can ensure that her vision comes to life.

Etsy versus Shopify

Etsy has changed a lot since it first began. It's now much easier to sell items that are far from handmade on the site, and for this reason, it's a bit discouraging for a true handmade seller like Kim.

There are plenty of tote bags on the site that were purchased wholesale from China and a monogram was added. Kim creates her bags from start to finish. Potential customers even write to Kim to tell her that they can get a bag like hers for less money!

On the other hand, Etsy is great for getting traffic into your shop, and great for getting found via search engines and via Etsy search. It's hard to get the same level of traffic on a brand new site of your own.
With Shopify, Kim can design a shop that matches her brand perfectly, and with her customization and monogram options, it's much easier to make this choices clear and streamlined on her own site.

But, it will take time for Kim to build up the same level of traffic and customers that she gets from Etsy. It's a balancing act, and at this point, she wants to keep both shops open.

How to Get Found

Kim gets more consistent sales from Etsy because of the sheer volume of shoppers searching there and being able to optimize her listings for SEO.

But if an influencer is talking about her items on social media, they'll link right to her own site and she'll see a spike in sales. Kim also uses her business social media accounts to point people to her own site versus Etsy.

Kim also gets found quite often via Google image searches. Both her Etsy listings and her blog photos get found this way. Kim actually got an order from the Estee Lauder companies to use her tote bags for a sales meeting, and they found her Etsy shop via Google image search!

Working on the Business

One of Kim's biggest goals is to increase traffic and sales on her Shopify site, but it's difficult to do when she's still the person sewing all of her bags.

She knows that in order to grow, she'll need to hire someone to help with the sewing so she can work on the business more and in the business less.

It's a difficult task to find someone who will do the job well, because Kim is very particular. She creates quality products that will last for years so she has to find an employee with the same high standards and skill level.

She knows that outsourcing will be worth it in the end, but the first step is the hardest!
(Isn't that the truth... any big decision in business seems so scary and it can be difficult to take action on it.)

Instagram vs Pinterest vs Facebook - It's War!

Ok, so the headline was just for fun. It's really not war between these social networks. Kim finds them all useful for different things, and we have to agree!

Instagram:  Kim is most active here. She's a visual person and she loves turning her Instagram feed into a board of inspiration.  Instagram also lets Kim have more interaction with her customers and followers versus Pinterest, where people don't chat very often.

Pinterest:  Kim loves Pinterest for its ability to take photos of her work and make them spread. She once had a photo from her blog on a kitchen storage project that got featured on Apartment Therapy! That pin has been re-pinned thousands of times and still brings her steady Pinterest traffic.
Facebook:  Facebook is a great place to have a conversation that lasts. Genuine relationships with your audience can be made here. (We agree, and we just love our private facebook group!)

Blogging for Business

Keeping up with a blog while running a handmade business is hard, but Kim has a clear goal with her blog: Keep content fresh enough that when someone new stops by her site, they know she's a real and active business. From there, Kim makes it really easy for a blog visitor to head to her shop or follow her on social media where she has time to post more often.

Kim posts about shop updates, a bit about family life, and crafty tutorials or photography tips.
Kim won't give up her blog even if her posts are infrequent, because those meta-tags on your photos are so great for Google image searches.

If she had unlimited time, Kim says her focus would be on more DIY tutorials, sewing projects, and home projects.

Blog Ideas for Handmade Business Owners:

  1. Post DIY and Crafty Tutorials Your ideal customer is probably pretty crafty but will splurge for just the right handmade item when it's too tricky for her to make herself!
  2. Share behind the scenes. Talk about your day-to-day life. Share beautiful photos. Talk about your family and personal life too. All of these posts let your audience get to know you better, and in turn, like and trust you.
  3. Share tips on how to run a handmade business. While this approach is a little less direct (the blog audience you attract may not be your ideal customer exactly) it's not a bad idea. Other handmade business owners are much more likely to support small, handmade businesses themselves! You could be next on their gift list.

My name is Who, my name is What?

Sorry for the Slim Shady reference, I couldn't resist! Just like Sarah and I couldn't resist asking how Lucy Jane Totes got its name. It's such a cute name... but its owner's name is.... Kim?

The story behind Lucy Jane is really sweet. Kim and her husband originally planned to have a whole slew of kids, but with twin boys and a tough pregnancy, they decided they were quite content with two healthy kids.

They knew if they ever had a girl they would name her Lucy Jane. Jane is Kim's mom's name, and she's been a big source of inspiration in Kim's life.

When they realized they likely wouldn't ever have a girl, they named the business Lucy Jane instead.

The Creative Process

After talking about Kim's business name, this launched us into a conversation on the doubts that creep into all of our minds when we pursue something creative. When an idea first strikes you think, "Oh my gosh this is the best thing ever!" Then the next day you'll think, "Oh my gosh this is the worst thing!" Then a few days later you'll think, "Oh this is really good!"

Isn't that the truth? When Kim designs bags or new products, she likes to make one, step back for a bit, then re-examine who work to figure out if she really likes it or not.
We agree! A little space from your creative work can do wonders for your perspective. And likely, it isn't the best or the worst, but somewhere in the middle. Just put it out into the world and likely some people will love it... and some won't. And that's ok!

Kim Takes all her Own Photos...of herself?

Sarah and I were dying to know how Kim gets such great photos of her bags! And... most of those photos have her in them holding the bags and showing them off. (Seriously, if you haven't clicked over to Kim's site yet, now's the time to do it... her photos are amazing.)

So how does Kim manage to take all her own photos... while she's in them?!

  1. Kim sets her camera up on a tripod. FYI - she uses a Nikon D700 (just a step below a professional camera)
  2. She configures her camera to a remote. Kim says if you look closely at some of her photos you can see the remote in her hand, although she tries her best to hide it!
  3. Kim tethers her camera to her I-mac so her photos are automatically imported into Lightroom. This allows Kim to immediately see how her photos look on a computer screen and accurately assess what needs tweaking.
  4. Kim snaps several different positions of her holding each bag.
  5. She grabs a photo, quickly edits it, and uploads it into a Shopify in a draft setting so she can compare it to her current product photos. This helps her to make sure the white balance is correct for her new batch of photos.
  6. Once the white balance is right, Kim sets up Lightroom so that it will automatically apply all of those edits to the next picture.

Gorgeous photos and cohesive look... DONE!

Kim says she used to take all the photos at once then sit down at her computer to edit only to find out that something was off. Now she saves herself loads of time by seeing the photos on the computer immediately and making adjustments before she takes too many photos that aren't right.

So... what's a tether?
With Lightroom starting a "tether" is one of the features offered. (Kim has a subscription to Lightroom and Photoshop through Adobe Creative Clouse for $10/month.)

To start a tether, just use the mini USB port to connect your camera directly to your computer .
Then start your tether in lightroom, and your photos will show up on your computer screen right away instead of on your camera screen.

Kim's other Killer Tool:  Dropbox. Kim exports her photos as a square to dropbox, so that way she's ready to upload them to her website or use them on Instagram.

To Photoshop or not to Photoshop: Kim says she struggles with Photoshop because she has a tendency to over-edit, and in the end, she doesn't even remember what the photo was supposed to look like!
Instead, she uses Lightroom to work on her exposure and white balance, so edits there and stores her pictures. Light room can also store all her original photos, so even if she makes edits to a photo, the original will always be there.

Wow! I'm so impressed with the way Kim streamlines her photography process. It's obvious that she's got things down pat because her site and her Instagram feed are just filled with beautiful, creative photos of her products.

Kim's Adorable Mom Moment

You'll have to tune in to hear how Kim's son Teddy is creating his own "department" within her business - so cute!

Stay in Touch with Kim!

LucyJaneTotes.com
LucyJaneTotes.Etsy.com

Direct download: Episode2010620Kim20VanSlambrook20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:30am EDT

home office tax deduction

The Home Office tax deduction is a topic that people often have questions about.  Find out today whether you qualify for a Home Office tax deduction and how you can calculate it.

The information presented in this episode is derived from IRS Publication 587.

When determining if you qualify for a home office tax deduction, the main question to ask yourself is, "Do I regularly use part of my home exclusively for conducting business?"

Exclusively

In order to qualify for a home office tax deduction, the IRS stipulates that you cannot use the space for both business and personal purposes, it must only be used for business purposes.  If you have a home office, you can only use it for the business to qualify for the tax deduction.  I personally have half of my basement that I use exclusively for our Amateur Naturalist Etsy shop.  This portion of my basement houses all of our inventory and packaging supplies and it's where I process all of our orders.  I don't use that portion of my basement for anything else but our Amateur Naturalist Etsy shop, so it meets the exclusivity test.

Let's say you are a food blogger, your kitchen does not qualify for a business use of your home tax deduction because you are using your kitchen for both personal and business activities.  Now if you were a really wealthy food blogger and you had two kitchens in your house, and you used one exclusively to make and test your food blog recipes, then that second kitchen would qualify for a home office tax deduction.

For Brilliant Business Moms I do most of my work at the kitchen table or the family room couch.  Because the kitchen table and couch are not exclusively used for the business, those areas of my house don't qualify for a tax deduction.

An area of your home that you use to story business inventory does count for the business use of your home tax deduction.

Regularly

If you have an area that you use exclusively for your business, you must also use that area regularly in order to qualify for the business use of your home tax deduction. It can't be an area of your home that you only occasionally use for the business.

Principal Place of Business

The IRS also stipulates that your home must be your principal place of business in order to take the home office tax deduction.  As bloggers and Etsy sellers this is almost always the case.

There are two methods you can choose from when calculating the amount of your tax deduction.

Actual Expenses Method

There are two methods to choose from for calculating your tax deduction.  The first is called the Actual Expenses method.  Calculate the square footage of the business use part of your home, lets say its a 10x10 area, or 100 square feet.  Next determine the square footage of your entire house, lets assume you have a 1,000 square foot home.  Lastly, calculate the percentage used for business purposes so for our example 100/1,000=10% of the home is used for business purposes.

A portion of the expenses involved in owning and maintaining your home can be counted as a business tax deduction.  In the case of our example, 10% of Real Estate Taxes, Insurance, Mortgage Interest, Utilities, Depreciation, etc. can be counted as a home office tax deduction.  These are called Indirect Expenses.

There can also be direct expenses.  If you have to paint or repair the business portion of your house, then the entire cost to repair or maintain that area is a business expense, not just a portion.  However if you are repairing or maintaining other parts of your home, those expenses are unrelated, and not even a portion can be taken as a business expense.  For instance if you paint or repair your kitchen, you can't claim even a portion of that as a business expense, those costs are unrelated to the business portion of your home.

If you choose the Actual Expenses method, you'll need to complete Form 8829.  I know this all seems confusing, but keep in mind that you'll be using a tax professional or tax software to complete your tax return.  The tax program will walk you through these steps and complete this form for you.  You just need to know to check that box that yes, you do qualify for a home office/business use of your home deduction.

There are limits on how much home office deduction you can take based on your business profits for the year. These limits are also calculated on Form 8829.  The tax program will also adjust your Schedule A itemized deductions for the portion of certain items (such as Real Estate taxes) you take as a business deduction.  The IRS is not going to let you double dip and count the same expenses twice.

The Easy Method

Yes, there really is an easy method, and it's actually easy!

Begin by calculating the square footage of the business use of your home.  Lets use our 10x10 foot example, 100 square feet.  Multiple the business square footage by $5 to determine your tax deduction.  So in our example that's a $500 tax deduction.  The maximum deduction for the easy method is 300 square feet or $1,500.  Isn't that easy?  All of this is right on Schedule C.

There is a gross income limitation on the easy method.  If you don't have enough profit to cover the business use of your home tax deduction, you're not going to be able to take it in that year.  So if you profit was only $100, you can only take up to $100 of a home office tax deduction.

All of our episodes on taxes and accounting will be pinned to our Small Business Accounting and Tax Help Pinterest board.

Be Brilliant,

Sarah

(Caveat, this information is meant to be a tax guide not a tax authority.  Consider your own unique tax situation when you complete your tax return and consult with a tax professional who knows your unique situation.)

 

Direct download: Episode2010520Home20Office20Tax20Deduction20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:30am EDT

Loved hearing how this Etsy seller started teaching her own classes and organized her own craft fair. Such a fun interview! | brilliantbusinessmoms.com

 

Do you have a skill that you'd love to teach to others? Or maybe you just love connecting brilliant women in business with each other and with new customers. In addition to selling handmade purses, Angie Gordon does both of these things. She teaches classes locally on how to open and grow an Etsy shop, and she created the Handmade Chic Artist's Fair - a twice-annual event for handmade sellers to showcase and sell their items.

Plus, I have to say, this conversation was one of the quirkiest and most fun we've had yet! You'll have to press play below to see what I mean!

On the Podcast

01:19 - The Road Less Patterned
04:06 - Encouragement for New Etsy Sellers
07:14 - Coffee + Etsy = Perfection!
10:23 - Advertising + Pricing
14:24 - Is Teaching a Business Strategy?
20:26 - Expert Enough
22:08 - Handmade Chic
26:44 - Craft Show Fees
28:44 - Craft Show Advertising
32:38 -Building a Reputation
38:17 - How many hours (& cups of coffee!) does it take?
48:44 - The grossest of gross story

Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to Hear Angie's Story

The Road Less Patterned

Angie got her start making purses quite a few years ago. She and a friend decided they wanted to make themselves bag. They found a pattern and tried their hand at sewing.

Angie quickly discovered that she hates using patterns! From the lingo to the little pieces to cut out and match together, Angie finds the process tedious and strange. So, she designs her purses in her head and comes up with a process all her own.

As Angie started wearing her bags, friends at school and church would ask for one. The business started to grow and spread organically, and all of a sudden, people she didn't know were asking for her bags.
At the request of a friend, Angie began doing home parties in people's houses, and her business continued to grow.

And once again, it was a friend who introduced Angie to Etsy! She started selling there in 2010.

Encouragement for New Etsy Sellers

Angie helps many brand new Etsy sellers get their shops off the ground with her classes, and one of the biggest misconception about selling online that she sees is that people assume if they simply put their work out there, people will come.

Selling online simply doesn't work that easily. You have to spend a lot of time and work hard to get found and get sales. And you need a lot of patience too!

The hardest part of selling on Etsy is getting noticed initially and getting your first few sales. But if you take a few minutes away from making your craft and figure out how to take great pictures, work on your listings to come up with the best tags and titles, and get your name out into the world with some marketing strategies, you'll start to see results.

"Don't give up!" Angie says. She's in several Facebook groups for handmade sellers, and she sees so many of them get discouraged really quickly. Angie didn't grow her business overnight - it took several years to get a steady stream of sales.

Coffee + Etsy = Perfection!

A few years ago, Angie started teaching workshops on how to get started selling on Etsy. Once again, the people found Angie! Friends and family would send emails and Facebook messages asking if she could help them get their shop started. But Angie didn't have an hour to spend with each person who asked.

A friend suggested that Angie gather a whole group of newbies and teach classes on Etsy. She found a coffee shop that let her use a room and a projector for free!

Lessons Learned from Teaching

Angie's first workshop was 2.5 hours long, very comprehensive, and when she finished, she saw nothing but deer in headlights!

She made sure the next class was smaller, and they started at the very beginning of opening their shops. writing their policies, creating an about page, and figuring our shipping. The women there literally brought out their laptops or ipads and got to work on their shops while Angie circulated around the room to help. Angie answered questions as they came up, and everyone left feeling equipped to open their first Etsy shop!
After that, Angie hosted a class on product photography, then branding, and she continues to bring on other experts to provide advice on various topics.

Advertising + Pricing

Angie started a Sheboygen, Wisconsin Etsy Sellers Facebook group, so she posts to the group when she's hosting a class. This alone, has been enough for Angie to fill her classes!

Angie charges just $20 per person for each class. She wants to keep it affordable for brand new sellers, but the small amount of money she makes helps to compensate her for her time.

Angie says that she spends the better part of a Thursday before class immersing herself in the topic she's teaching on, and putting together folders full of printed materials that everyone can take home. (Angie's so nice she even buys the ladies a cup of coffee for the class!)

Is Teaching a Business Strategy?

We were curious about whether teaching classes is something Angie views as part of her business, or just something she does to be generous to new sellers.

Angie considers her classes a hobby with benefits! She absolutely loves teaching, and she gets so excited when she has a class scheduled, but the small income she makes from classes is definitely not the meat and potatoes of her business.

For any women out there who may be considering starting their own classes, you should know that there are other ways you could do them. Angie chooses to make hers informal, but you could get in touch with your local Chamber of Commerce, or you could suggest that you teach a class to your local Community or Public College!
Many cities have a parks and rec department that offers classes for adults too.

You don't have to teach about business - you could teach about your craft or hobby. You could even host a one-day conference on your field of expertise!

Expert Enough

It's easy to get excited about the idea of teaching others, but quickly count ourselves out because we don't think we're expert enough to do it. Sarah and I say "you're expert enough!"

There is always someone a few steps behind you that you can teach. And Angie admits that she still doesn't know everything, but she teaches what she does know. And some of the things she teaches took her years to figure out! She loves passing along what she's learned and giving someone else a shortcut.

There's also value in learning from someone who's only a few steps ahead versus five thousand steps. That person who is miles in front of you may not remember what it was like at the starting line. They tend to gloss over the beginning and simplify the process of getting started. The person just a few steps ahead well remembers what it was like, and all the exact steps she took to get where she is today.

Angie saw an illustration the other day that serves as encouragement: There's a guy running really slow, but he says, "I'm lapping everybody on the couch."

Handmade Chic

Angie seems to have a trend of jumping into something fun that a friend suggested, and then later turning it into a something big! About 7 years ago Angie did a house party in her home to sell her purses. She hosted the party in November, and this time, she invited a few other maker friends to come and sell too.

The night went so well for the sellers that it became a tradition. After the second year, people started calling Angie and asking if they could be a part of it! 4 years ago, Angie had 14 people sell in her home, and 70 people walking through during a 2-hour timespan!

2 years ago, Angie and her family moved into an older home with a less open floor plan, the November event had 80 visitors who were shoulder to shoulder, so she had to find a bigger place! Angie moved Handmade Chic to the coffee shop where she had been teaching classes.

The coffee shop was so generous - letting Angie and the makers take over the entire shop, and even helping her advertise. She tried Handmade Chic in the summer to test out how it would go in the shop, and then they did it again in November. During the first summer event in the shop, they had 85 come through on a Saturday morning.


Last year, in the 3rd week of November, they had over 200 people come through the coffee shop during a 3-hour window!

Recently, Angie did another summer show at the coffee shop, and this time, she took applications and branded it as Handmade Chic Artist's Fair. It's official! Angie has been very intentional in branding her event as exclusively handmade items.

Handmade Chic has a problem, though, they're outgrowing the coffee shop! It's a good problem to have, and Angie is fervently looking for a bigger space for this year's show.

Craft Show Fees

Angie charges just $35 for a 5 by 5 foot space inside the coffee shop, because they're very limited on space! But outside, a vendor can take a chance on the Wisconsin weather and pay just $20 for unlimited space.
At this point, Angie doesn't take home a paycheck for hosting the craft fair. She uses the money in fees to advertise for the event. But this year, if they find a bigger space they can get more artists involved and have enough money to advertise and pay themselves too! (Or, as Angie says, at least pay her right-hand girl Kim who does a lot of work for the event!)

Craft Show Advertising

When Angie first turned her November open house into an event, she would go on Vistaprint and make post cards. She mailed them out to everyone she knew and handed them out at school and church.
Early on, about 90% of the visitors to the even were people she invited and knew, and then there were a few guests from other vendors.

To this day, people come to the show and thank Angie for sending out a post card! It may be old school, but that physical reminder can make a big difference for a local event. It goes up on the fridge, and people don't forget to come. Angie also orders plenty so that the other makers can hand out postcards as well.
Now that the show is growing, Angie runs Facebook ads too. She shows them to people within a 45-mile radius of Sheboygen, and a few months ago when they welcomed everyone to the show, they discovered that many visitors found out about it on Facebook!

Welcoming guests to the event and offering a door prize serves another function too - they're able to get email addresses so they can let all the attendees know about the event for next year.

Angie's local radio station advertises community events for free. They'll read them on air for a week or two leading up to an event. In addition, Angie hires someone to write an article about the event, and it gets published in local newspapers. Once again - free advertising for the fair!

Building a Reputation

Because Angie has been very intentional in her branding of her craft show, she's building a good reputation that will help Handmade Chic grow from year to year.

Friends love to tell others about which craft shows are great (and which ones stink!) Angie realized early on that visitors were coming just for the handmade items, and those with home party businesses didn't sell well. So she decided to make the show juried and only accept the right handmade sellers.

Angie's recommendation for a juried show: Hire yourself a "Kim"! There's nothing more difficult than having to turn down friends and family who want to sell at your show. But if you leave the decision to someone else, you can tell your loved ones that it's out of your hands. :)

How many hours (& cups of coffee!) does it take?

We were curious about the number of hours it takes to plan and put on a craft show.
Angie didn't have a number. She just had one word: INSANE. Between her June and November shows, Angie only has about 6 weeks of down time before she's planning again!

On the list:

  • picking a theme and colors
  • designing the postcards
  • creating the applications
  • receiving and deciding on applicants
  • updating the website
  • communicating with the artists
  • advertising the event
  • setting up the day before
  • being the first one there and the last one to leave

Angie says when she's not physically working on the craft show, she's thinking about it, but it's something she really looks forward to.

The grossest of gross story

Angie described her funny mom moment in just that way! We'll leave it at that - you'll have to tune in to hear the crazy thing Angie's girls did when they were little. And shhh don't you dare tell them she shared this story on the podcast!

Stay in touch with Angie!

Gathered-Sown.com
Etsy shop: Gathered and Sown

 

Direct download: Episode2010420Angie20Gordon_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:41pm EDT

Love this blogger's tips on managing her growing blog and biz along with her baby.  And... number two is on the way.  Practical tips for real moms who are parenting full-time  |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com/103

Doesn't it seem like the best ideas for our business often come at the craziest times? Sarah and I started the podcast in the midst of Chris coming home from deployment, us leaving for a trip to Spain, and Sarah and her husband Mike re-doing their kitchen...themselves. Before that, our Etsy shop, The Amateur Naturalist launched just months before Chris and I brought Holden home from India.

Rachel's business started in the midst of a crazy time as well. She had a newborn at home! And not long after Rowan was past the newborn stage, Rachel became pregnant with her second child. Learn how Rachel nurtures both a baby and a business - with incredible results on both fronts :)

On the Podcast

02:15 - Nurturing a Business and a Baby
04:49 - 4 Strategies for Exponential Growth
09:27 - 1 Year...Is it Enough?
12:58 - Fits & Spurts -a Realistic Strategy for Moms
20:51 - Making the Business More Passive
24:53 - The Rule Breaker
27:54 - How to Schedule Life Around Baby and Business
32:45 - Can a Solopreneur take Maternity Leave?
36:52 - The Question that Will Give your Business Clarity
43:19 - Rachel's Adorable Mom Moment

Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to Hear Rachel's Story

Nurturing a Business and a Baby

 
As a pediatric occupational therapist, when Rachel's first baby, Rowan, was born, she immediately started putting her skills and knowledge to work. Rachel knows just how important those first few months and years can be for a child's development, and she didn't want to miss out on a second with Rowan.
 
Rachel began coming up with great activities she could do with Rowan to help him grow, learn, and develop. And she started doing these creative activities when Rowan was a newborn!
 
Rachel didn't expect to become a stay-at-home Mamapreneur but when she shared on her personal Facebook account what she and Rowan were up to, her friends were so impressed. Many other parents found her posts and activities really helpful, and they begged her to start a blog or write a book so they could learn more.
 
Even in the midst of a crazy season, Rachel took this positive feedback as a good sign and she jumped in!
She launched her blog, CandoKiddo.com in September 2014 and her Etsy shop, CanDoKiddo.Etsy.com in November of 2014.
 

Rachel's first book, Begin with a Blanket
Rachel's first book, Begin with a Blanket

4 Strategies for Exponential Growth

 
Less than a year into blogging, Rachel gets over 100,000 pageviews on her blog each month. She contributes her blog growth to several factors.
 
1. Building Online Relationships. Rachel says that the old school business model views other people in our niche as competition, but that's not how it works online. You have to have the mindset that everyone is on your team. Finding supportive online communities has been key to Rachel's growth.
 
In some of her online communities, Rachel feels intimidated by the bigger bloggers who belong there, but she's forced herself to push past that. Rachel makes a point of continually checking into her favorite online communities - asking questions, offering help, and connecting.
 
In this way, when something big is going on for Rachel, like a book launch, she's reaching out to ask for help from people who know her and her content.
 
2. Facebook Promotion. Rachel is part of the Kid Blogger Network , which has official share days for everyone's Facebook page. Rachel spends about 1.5 hours each week sharing her blog content on other blogger's facebook pages. The work has paid off - since Facebook is the highest referrer of traffic for CanDoKiddo.com.
 
3. Pinterest Group Boards. Rachel finds group boards within her niche of kids' blogs, parenting, and activities and pins her content in those places. Group boards often have quite a large number of followers, and if the right people see your post, it can get pinned and re-pinned over and over - generating a steady stream of traffic over the long-term.
 
4. Guest Posting. Rachel guest posts strategically and views it not just as a way to get more traffic, but as a way to establish a long-term relationship with another blogger. In this way, Rachel and another kids' blogger can mutually send each other traffic, ask questions of each other, and help each other out.
 

1 Year...Is it Enough?

 
Rachel's blog, CandoKiddo.com focuses just on developmental activities during infancy. Once a child is over a year old, Rachel really doesn't have much to say. Clearly, as a pediatric OT, Rachel could cover way more than the first year of life, but she's chosen a very narrow niche for two important reasons.
 
1. Be Known for Something Specific. There are millions of kids' activities bloggers or parenting bloggers, but Rachel is now known as the baby activities girl. That very clear identity makes it easier for other people to talk about Rachel and pass her site onto others. Think about it - when you're chatting with someone about their upcoming wedding or their new baby, do you send them to the most general sites on those topics, or do you have a light bulb moment in the middle of the conversation: "I know just the site for you! Check out this lady's blog - she features vintage weddings just like the one you're thinking of having!" Be known and remembered by defining what your brand is all about - and what it's not.
 
2. Create valuable content. Rachel's narrow niche helps guide her content. She knows she'll only focus on informative posts for a baby's first year of life. And when it comes to writing content, Rachel chooses quality over quantity. She writes really long blog posts so she can go in-depth and bring as much helpful information to the table as she can. Again, Rachel sets herself apart and has become the go-to girl for Developmental Content for Babies.
 

Fits & Spurts -a Realistic Strategy for Moms

 
With all the blog posts, podcasts, books, and other content on growing an online business, actually implementing the advice we hear can be overwhelming. We simply can't do it all. Especially when we're in the season that Rachel is in - a baby at home, one more on the way, and zero childcare help.
 
Rachel uses the fits and spurts strategy to ensure she makes progress without getting overwhelmed. Essentially, every month Rachel will pick a new item in her business to focus on. One month, she focused on her email list and created some great opt-ins along with an autoresponder series. Another month, it was her Etsy shop and optimizing it for SEO. Recently, Rachel took a month to write her new book, Simple Play: Easy Fun for Babies.
She said it was like pulling teeth to force herself to just write and not spend all her time Google Amazon marketing strategies. She told herself over and over, "Close the Google window. That's for next month! Keep writing!"
 
Rachel says that at least once a month she has to remind herself that she can't do it all. She'll hit a wall, feel burned out and exhausted, and remember to just focus on the task at hand and relax about everything else for the month. A lot of the Fits and Spurts Strategy relies on trusting that the hard work Rachel did last month, or several months ago, will carry her through.
 

Making the Business More Passive

 
Rachel doesn't sell her books on her own site, and she admits that decision is largely based on pregnancy. She doesn't want the hassle of an additional sales channel and additional orders coming in that she's responsible to fulfill.
 
With selling on Etsy, Rachel has to have boxes and gift wrap on hand, package her orders, and make trips to the post office. Now, Rachel is shifting her focus to selling on Amazon so that product fulfillment is taken out of her hands and home.
 
Rachel is excited to see how her Amazon sales will shake out. So far on Etsy, 35% of her book sales are for her paperback version, and 65% are for the e-book. On Amazon, Rachel has the added option of bundling her two paperback books together.
 
The best part? Rachel won't have to ship any of those orders herself! We can't wait to see how this makes the business more do-able with two babies at home.
 

Rule Breaker

 
Surprisingly enough, our sweet, southern guest could aptly be called Rachel the Rule Breaker. She doesn't believe in following every expert's advice to succeed in business.
 
Below are several online business rules Rachel has broken...and it hasn't hurt her one bit.
 
1. Post on social media constantly. Rachel knows many bloggers who have pins going out on Pinterest every hour of every day and others who post to their Facebook page 30 times per day. She's tried these strategies and hated it. She was on social media 24/7 and the joy of blogging was lost.
 
Rachel posts 2-3 times per day on Facebook, and she's very selective about what she shares. It has to be something very helpful within the baby niche, otherwise, she simply won't share it. Her engagement is great, and she doesn't feel like she's missing out by not posting 20 times or more per day.
 
2. Be controversial. Many parenting bloggers tell you that you should share topics on your Facebook page or blog that spark debate. This gets people talking and engaged. Rachel intentionally steers clear of hot button issues. Instead, she focuses on creating a positive, helpful, encouraging environment for parents, and her audience appreciates this. If they want a debate, there are plenty of places they can go online.
 
3. Write short blog posts, and write often. Rachel consistently blows through recommended word counts with her blog posts, and she writes less often to make sure each post is insanely helpful and informative.
 
4. Use an editorial calendar. Nope. Rachel doesn't do this either. Instead, she has a long list of blog posts she wants to write, and which ones she writes each week is determined by what she has time for. Some take quite a bit longer than others. (Isn't this the perfect strategy for a mom with little ones... we don't have guaranteed hours, so we have to be flexible.)
 

How to Schedule Life Around Baby and Business

 
Rachel says her work schedule has changed as her son's needs and her needs have changed. Early on, Rowan napped twice a day, and Rachel spent about 90% of nap time working on her business. Then, after Rowan goes to bed, Rachel works about 4 nights per week - clocking in about 3 hours on each of those nights.
 
In the beginning of motherhood, Rachel also suffered from postpartum insomnia. So she'd be up at 4 AM while Rowan slept til 7:00. She could easily complete several hours of work before he woke up.
 
Now that Rowan is older and naptime has decreased, Rachel's not able to work as much during the day. And during her first trimester of her second pregnancy, Rachel used that time to nap herself. It's what she needed! So she essentially cut her work time in half for a season.
 
While Rachel's schedule continues to change based on the season and her family's needs, overall she says she works about 20-25 hours per week. That's quite a lot for someone who's a full-time mom with zero help.
How does Rachel stay productive during those tight windows of work time?
 
She highlights naptimes on her planner and writes down what she'll work on during any given naptime. Then she writes a list of things she can accomplish while Rowan is awake - such as housework, exercise, or cooking. Rachel says Rowan is pretty good at playing by himself since he's been so accustomed to fun activities from a young age.
 
One caveat: Rachel doesn't review her list at the end of the day. Inevitably, she doesn't get everything done, so rather than dwell on what didn't get done, she lets that go and starts fresh with another day.

Rachel with Soon-to-be big brother Rowan
Rachel with Soon-to-be big brother Rowan


 

Can a Solopreneur take Maternity Leave?

 
Rachel plans to have a maternity leave from her online career when her second baby is born in November. How will she swing it?
 
The goal is for Rachel to not write any new blog posts for 6-8 weeks. She feels fine about m aintaining social media at some level, though.
 
Right now, during Rachel's second trimester she's working hard to build up extra blog posts and reach out to online connections to get other bloggers guest posting on her site. In this way, she'll have built up a library of posts to use when she's out on leave.
 
Another smart idea from Rachel: She's training her audience now to get accustomed to just one blog post from her so it won't be a huge shock when the baby is born. In addition, paring back her posts now allows her to use the time she would've spent each week writing post #2 and instead writing a post that will get scheduled several months from now.
 

The Question that Will Give your Business Clarity

 
A few months ago, Rachel starting finding some quiet time to sit down and reflect on what matters most to her in her business. Rather than spin her wheels indefinitely, she wants to strike a balance between work and family life, and that requires discerning the most important aspects of her business and leaving the rest behind.
 
Rachel asks herself this question to get clarity: If I walked completely away from my business, what would I miss?
Rachel quickly realized that she wouldn't miss making her play blankets or shipping Etsy orders. She's ok with letting those things go. However, she would really miss the personal connections she's made with parents who ask her questions and connect with her online. She loves helping parents and being accessible to them - so she wants to grow her business in ways that reflect this mission.
 
Rachel's advice for other Mamapreneurs: Take some time for self reflection. Think about what's working in your business and what's not working. What makes you feel great about your business and what doesn't? And most of all, what would you miss if you walked away today? Keep that in mind as you move forward.
 

Rachel's Adorable Mom Moment

 
Rachel's mom moment was both hilarious and adorable. You'll have to tune in to hear about the prank 13 month-old Rowan pulled on his Mama!
 

Stay in touch with Rachel!

 
CandoKiddo.com
CanDoKiddo.Etsy.com

Rachel's Books: Begin with a Blanket: Creative Play for Infants
Simple Play: Easy fun for Babies

Direct download: Episode2010320Rachel20Coley_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:30am EDT

Trademarks, LLC's and other Legal Advice with Nellie Akalp - great tips! I never knew how to go about getting a Trademark but now it seems really do-able. brilliantbusinessmoms.com/102

BAM! You found it! Your perfect business idea, along with the best name, logo, and tagline to go with it! You're pumped! You're ready to get out there and make some sales!

But despite your best efforts, you end up with one unhappy customer among the thousands you've served. They're convinced you've ruined their life... and they're going for broke!

On top of that, you've noticed a similar business in your niche that has the same company name and tagline. What's a small business owner to do?!

No worries. Nellie Akalp has you covered.

While registering as an LLC or Trademarking aspects of your business may not be first on your to-do list, Nellie shares why they're important issues to consider as soon as you know you have a viable business on your hands.

On the Podcast

01:15 - Nellie's Second Start-Up
03:13 - Do you have a Fictitious Business Name (We hope not!)
07:23 - What are the Benefits of an LLC or S-Corp?
13:21 - What Good is a Trademark if there are Two Companies Called "Nike"?
19:56 - The Benefits of Registering a Trademark
23:10 - Is Obtaining a Trademark Complicated and Expensive?
27:55 - The $100 Investment that Turned into Millions
30:42 - Back to the Future
34:07 - More than a Million Reasons to be Proud
34:50 - Nellie's Hilarious Mom Moment

Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to hear from Nellie

Nellie's Second Start-Up

CorpNet is actually Nellie Akalp's second start-up! Her first business began in 1997 with her husband, Philip. They were in law school together and saw a need for an online business that provided entrepreneurs with legal filing help so they could get their businesses off the ground.

Intuit acquired the Akalp's company in 2005, and after their three-year non-compete clause was up, the Akalps were still so passionate about helping entrepreneurs in this way that they started from scratch once again and founded CorpNet.

Nellie and Philip have helped over half a million corporations and LLCs to get started by assisting with their document filing and streamlining the process of business formation for them.
In addition to being a brilliant start-up founder, Nellie is a mother of four. She has teenage twins, and 11 year-old, and a 4 year-old.

Do you have a Fictitious Business Name (We hope not!)

If you've never taken steps to become an LLC (Limited Liability Company) or S-Corp, and you're not in a partnership, then you have a fictitious business name.

The default business structure for a solopreneur is called a Sole Propietorship. Many businesses start out this way, but it's not wise to continue with this structure for very long.

Essentially, a Sole Proprietorship allows you to do business under you own name, or a "fictitious business name". Filing this business type is called a "Doing Business As Filing" or "Fictitious Business Name Filing."
Although it's easy to get started as a Sole Proprietorship, this business structure offers you zero legal protection. If your business wrongs a third party, and that third party decides to sue, they can go after your personal assets such as your house, car, or personal savings accounts.

So get rid of that fictitious business name, and structure your business as an LLC or S-Corp.

(Note: You should always talk with an accountant and legal advisors. This article does not constitute either accounting or legal advice, but simply recommendations based on experience.)

What are the Benefits of an LLC or S-Corp?

The S-Corp or LLC are the best types of business entities for a small business owner to consider. Since laws vary from state-to-state, be sure to check with your accountant to determine which structure makes the most sense for you.

The Benefits of an S-Corp

  • The corporation gets treated as an individual entity. An S-Corp is treated as a pass-through tax entity, so this means, for example, that when a company pays out dividends to its stockholders, you no longer get taxed twice - once at the individual level and once at the corporate level for the small business owner. You are only taxed at the individual level when you receive your dividend, and in this way, an S-Corp avoids double taxation.
  • May be entitled to more tax savings. There may be other additional tax benefits and savings related to being an S-Corp, but these vary on a case-by-case basis.
  • Corporate shield between you and your business. You have far more protection for your personal assets when you are the owner of an S-Corp. Now, a wronged third party may go after the corporation's assets, but not your personal assets as the business owner.
  • Added layer of privacy. Becoming an S-Corp means that the corporation is its own entity. You no longer have forms with your name all over it stating that you're simply "doing business as .......X Company"
  • Higher credibility in the eyes of the consumer. Becoming a corporation means that you've taken steps to legitimize your business. You're official.

What are the Benefits of an LLC?

Here's the best news of all! An LLC provides all the benefits of an S-Corp without all of the formalities required to file as an S-Corp.

With an LLC, you have have your cake and eat it too. You get added tax benefits, additional legal protection, more privacy, and appear more legitimate in the eyes of the consumer.

The only formality required for an LLC is to have an operating agreement that's executed by all of the members of the LLC and to file a yearly compliance document.

What Good is a Trademark if there are Two Companies Called "Nike"?

What is a trademark and why does it matter to you as a small business owner?

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, or design or a combination of any of these that identifies the source of a product or service and distinguishes it from its competitors. Trademarks can be given for product names, company names, logos, and taglines.However, trademarks apply only to a particular category of goods and services.

For example, Nike Inc. owns the swoosh mark on shoes, clothing, andsporting goods along with the name Nike and the phrase "Just do it" within the sporting goods category. However, there is also a Nike Corporation (a completely different company) who sells hydraulic lifting jacks and machinery.

These two companies, both called Nike, can both exist because each is clearly distinguished within a particular category of goods and services - one in sporting goods and the other in hydraulic machinery.

So what's the point of a Trademark if there can be two Nikes?

A trademark keeps your brand ID safe so that no one else in the marketplace can use your name, logo, tag line, or combination of those for a similar product. Trademarks are still powerful, even though they only apply to a specific category or just a few categories.

When should you Trademark?

If you have a viable business name and you're planning on using it in more than one state, then trademarking your brand name and possibly logo and tag line should be done during your start of business checklist. You don't want others to dilute your brand name or logo by using it on similar products that didn't come from you.

The Benefits of Registering a Trademark

  • You're eligible for damages if someone in your category infringes on your name, logo, or branding.
  • You obtain the right to use the R symbol instead of just the TM symbol behind your company name and logo.
  • You have a streamlined process for securing your domain and usernames on social sites if, for example, someone else is already using your brand name there. It's much easier for you to dispute this use and win the right to be the only person using that brand name.
  • You receive stronger legal protection than that of "Common Law Rights of First Use" so it's easier to recover your property and dispute infringements on your brand. (Common Law Rights of First Use does say that if you've registered your business with your state with a given brand name and have done business with that brand name, then you have rights of first use, but this is not nearly as official as having a registered trademark.)

Is Obtaining a Trademark Complicated and Expensive?

Acquiring a Trademark can be a complicated process, but you don't have to have a lawyer to do it. However, a document filing service like CorpNet can help you along without all of the crazy expense that comes with hiring a lawyer.

Below are the steps you'll go through to obtain a Trademark for your business.

  1. Make sure the name is available for you to register it as a trademark. You can do this by conducting a free Trademark search.
  2. Be really certain! Conduct a comprehensive nationwide search to make sure no other businesses have any common law rights to the name.
  3. File your Trademark with the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office.) You can file your Trademark directly online. The cost for a Trademark application is $325 per class. You will register your Trademark under 1-3 classes.
  4. Filing classes can take 6-12 months, and you will be assigned a document examiner from the USPTO who will review your filing.
  5. This document examiner may submit an office action to request more information from the small business owner.

This is where things may fall apart for the entrepreneur. If they're too busy and don't respond to requests for more information, the trademark application will expire and they will have wasted their application fees.
Companies like Corpnet ease the stress and ensure the Trademark is processed by taking care of office actions and all correspondence with the USPTO.

Grab more information and answers to commonly asked questions about Trademarks.

The $100 Investment that Turned into Millions

Nellie and Philip Akalp of Corpnet. Millionaires at 31 after their company was acquired by Intuit!

After snagging tons of technical advice from Nellie, we wanted to take things back a few years and find out what it was like to grow a start-up in 1997. Nellie was more than happy to share her story!
She and her husband Philip were both attending law school in 1997. There were in a corporation class at the time, and in the real world, the internet era had begun.

One of the hottest trends at the time was starting a business online because the internet was booming. However, these bright-eyed, enthusiastic internet entrepreneurs often had no clue about the tedious work of filing as an LLC or S-Corp or getting Trademarks for their business.

Nellie and Philip came up with the idea to help all of these start-ups with the legal filing they would need to bring their businesses to fruition.

With a $100 investment, the Akalps acquired a domain name and started their business out of their 2- bedroom apartment. They worked day and night until they reached a substantial amount of sales.

They were able to purchase their first home with their business, and then they acquired their own office space.
In 2005, they were approached the opportunity to be acquired by Intuit, and they said yes! At the time, they had 5 year-old twins and a two year old toddler. Selling made sense so they could spend more time with their family.

The Akalps signed a non-compete clause that lasted for three years. But rather than get used to their (very!) early retirement, they decided to get right back into the business when their non-compete was up.
Nellie and Philip realized that they were too young, too motivated, and too passionate to take on such an early retirement. They love small business so much and couldn't see themselves doing anything else.

Back to the Future

Clearly, starting a business in 1997 is much different than starting a business in 2009. We were curious about the challenges of starting again. Nellie was very open about several challenges that confronted CorpNet in 2009. But clearly, she's pushed past all of them!

  • The Recession. 2009 was the height of the recession in the U.S. so this alone made growing a small business challenging.
  •  Saturated marketplace. In the 12 years that had past between the two businesses, many companies very similar to the Akalps had sprung up.
  • Fierce Competition. Not only were the Akalps competing with their old company, but with thousands of competitors offering similar services as them in the much busier online business space.

The Benefits of Starting in 2009

  • No barrier to entry. With Google, social networks, and a plethora of online business tools, there's no barrier to entry to getting started with an online business. The landscape was much different in 1997 when just getting a website up was much more challenging and expensive.
  • Clear Vision. Having already grown a similar business, the Akalps had a clear vision for where they wanted to go. They weren't distracted by shiny objects but stayed the course.
  • Social Media. 2009 was around the birth of the social media era. The Akalps didn't have nearly as many tools to reach and connect with their audience online in 1997. Now, they can market their business in a variety of ways, and they've chosen to be very savvy with social media.
  • Content Marketing. Nellie markets CorpNet primarily by putting out a ton of content around their niche. She's branded herself as a small business expert, and she continuously puts out extremely helpful content for her audience of potential customers. People being to know, like, and trust Nellie before they ever pick up the phone.
  • Stand Out. Nellie believes that there's plenty of business to go around for everybody. Just because you're entering a saturated market doesn't mean you have a barrier to entry. Look at the market and figure out how you can differentiate yourself to stand out from everybody else.

More than a Million Reasons to be Proud

We love to get inside the heads of the mamapreneurs we interview to find out what makes them tick. Out of everything they've accomplished, what are they most proud of?

Nellie found it difficult to pinpoint just one thing considering everything she's done over the past 18 years, but she cited more than a million great reasons to be proud. Her company was acquired at an early age - Nellie was just 31 years old at the time, and she and her husband had built that company to be so successful that they became multi-millionaires when they sold it.

(Yep, I'd say building a company to that level - along with helping many entrepreneurs along the way is certainly something to be proud of!)

Nellie's Hilarious Mom Moment

Start-up Mom Nellie Akalp with her husband and four kids

Nellie's 4 year-old had us cracking up with one of her funny misunderstandings about how the world works. Seriously, this story is just too good! Tune in to hear it!

Find Nellie's Business Online

Corpnet.com
CorpNet has live chat experts or you can email them: info@corpnet.com

Direct download: Episode2010220Nellie20Akalp_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:25am EDT

Wanelo can be a great way to get your products into shopper's hands. Learn how to use the platform as an online seller | brilliantbusinessmoms.com

It seems like there's a new form of social media popping up every day.  How do you decide which ones to invest in and which ones just aren't worth your time?  Well, you may never know unless you test things!  Cheri Tracy is a master at testing new forms of social media to see if they'll result in sales for her cosmetics business, Orglamix.  But she tests in a way that doesn't consume her entire week.  With as little as 15 minutes each week, Cheri can be active on a social media platform and see sales as a result.

Find out where she's promoting her products and where she's seeing results - along with tons of other e-commerce tips!

On the Podcast

01:13 - The Business that Started on Bed Rest
5:50 - Why Shopify is Worth the Price
08:32 - Must-Have Apps for Selling
12:19 - What is Wanelo?
15:08 - The Buy Button
16:09 - How to Get Found on Wanelo
18:26 - How to Connect with Influencers on Wanelo
21:00 Once Upon a Time...
25:02 - How to Get your Brand Page on Wanelo
27:03 - Outfy
32:51 - Cheri's Secret Weapon
37:25 - Productivity Tips
40:11 - When your Business Feels like Cleaning the Toilets
43:04 - Cheri's Magical Mom Moment ;)

Press Play on the Podcast Player Below

The Business that Started on Bed Rest

When Cheri was pregnant with her first daughter, she was on bed rest at the end of her pregnancy and bored out of her mind!  She already had a business private-labeling cosmetics (buying existing formulas and putting your own branding on something to sell it.) but as she sat in bed, she started reading and researching all of the ingredients in the cosmetics.   Some of them had 30-40 ingredients in them, and she didn't think they needed to be there.

Cheri realized that she could build a better product.  So she started Orglamix to create cruelty-free, natural cosmetics that felt more fun and glamorous than the current granola make-up brands in the marketplace.

Cheri started out on Etsy, and sold there for several years.  It was really slow in the beginning, but she kept at it and grew year after year.

One year Cheri looked back and she had sold 10,000 units over the previous year!  She thought, "I can do this!  I have a business here!"

As Cheri's business grew, it got to the point where she was working 80 hours per week to keep things going, and her husband was across the country for his job each week.  She was overwhelmed, so she stopped everything and took 18 months off from Orglamix.

Cheri just relaunched Orglamix on the Shopify platform a year ago, and it's been growing quickly!

Why Shopify is Worth the Price

After trying several platforms such as a Wordpress plug-in that constantly crashed, and other e-commerce sites like Etsy and StoreEnvy, Cheri just can't get over how incredible Shopify is!

Cheri was hesitant to try Shopify at first because of the cost.  The base price is around $100/month, and that doesn't include other apps and features you may need.  However, Cheri's so glad she took the plunge.

It's simple and easy to use.  Everything is pre-configured for you so that your site looks like a professional designer did it.  But the wonderful thing is that Cheri can manage the entire site herself.

The other huge benefit to using Shopify are the sheer volume of Apps that integrate with the platform that will make your job as a seller so much easier.

Must-Have Apps for Selling

Cheri uses several Apps in conjunction with Shopify that help her e-commerce site to run smoothly.

1.) ShipStation. ShipStation can pull in shipping labels for orders from any platform that Cheri has integrated with it. Every morning she just pushes a few buttons and off her labels go to the printer.

2.) SEO Apps. Cheri uses several SEO apps that help her to get found in search more often.

3.) Email Marketing App. Cheri uses an app that's completely integrated with her site so that it can send out automatic emails if someone has a dropped shopping cart or if she wants to announce a new product.

Cheri's biggest response is from a simple little email she sends out the day after someone makes their first purchase from Orglamix.  She essentially says, "Hi I'm Cheri, this is my company, it's so nice to meet you! I'm super excited for you to try my products, and please reach out if you have any questions."Cheri gets about 25-50 responses back each week from people who are so excited to hear from her and have that personal touch!

4.) Receiptful . Receiptful sends an email that asks if the customer is happy with they're order. Then they can click to rate Orglamix.  This rating system also helps Cheri to stave off any unhappy customers and resolve the issue quickly.

Receiptful has another great feature.  If a customer shares it with their friends, they get a coupon for $10 off their next purchase, and their friend does too.

So how expensive are these fancy apps?

Cheri says that the fees for most apps are quite minimal.  Some are free and some are $6/month.  Ship Station is the most expensive app and it costs $99/month.

What is Wanelo?

Of all the social media platforms that Cheri has tried over the past year, Wanelo has been one of the most effective sites for her.  We completely understand the feeling of social media overwhelm!  You likely feel like you just can't add another thing!

Cheri gets that too, but what changed her mind were the traffic and sales that came rolling in without too much effort on her part.

So what is Wanelo, exactly?

Wanelo stands for Want, Need, Love, and Cheri says it's best described as a social marketplace.  It's a way for shoppers to discover and buy products.

What Cheri loves about Wanelo is that users aren't saving DIY projects or recipes or reading quotes, they're all there for one reason... and that's to shop.  Small indie brands can grow and make sales right alongside large brands like urban outfitters and anthropologie.

Wanelo's demographic is majority female, and 50% of its users are between 18-24 years old.  Products that cater to young females tend to do well, but Cheri says that her market is considerably older, and she still gets high engagement and conversions with the site.

The Buy Button

One additional benefit to using Shopify is the "Buy on Wanelo" app that Cheri can use to sell her products directly on the site rather than redirecting Wanelo users to her site.

If you have a shop that doesn't have an integrated app, you can simply redirect potential customers to your site, but often, a few sales may be lost in the process.

Cheri says she pays Wanelo 10% commission for the feature, and they send her a check for her sales each month.

How to Get Found on Wanelo

You can get found in several ways on Wanelo.

1.) Create Collections. A collection is a group of your products featured together on your Brand page (the equivalent of your profile page on other social media sites). So if someone sees your brand page, they can browse your collections of your products.

2.) SEO. Use keyword -rich descriptions for your collections so people can find you on Wanelo via search.

3.) Create Stories. Stories are generally a mix of your own products plus others' products. It's kind of like a treasury and an Instagram post mixed together.  When you create a story, your followers may see that story in their feed on Wanelo.  They can then add your products to their own lists, collections and stories, and you'll continue to get discovered by other users.  (In this way, it's similar to Pinterest in that your content can spread from one user to another.)

An added bonus?  Since Wanelo is very mobile-driven, many of its users are receiving push notifications when new things happen (like a new story from a brand they're following!)

How to Connect with Influencers on Wanelo

When you first sign up for Wanelo, the platform will suggest brands and shops you should follow, along with super users to follow.  Cheri calls these the Influencer accounts.

You can also find these influencers by heading to "My Feed" then choosing "Find People to Follow".  Wanelo will suggest top influencers to you, whose follower numbers range from 20,000 to several hundred thousand.

When you check out the profiles of influencers, many will provide their email address so you can reach out to them for potential partnerships.  You can work with an influencer to create a sponsored "story" in the same way that you might do a sponsored post with an Influencer on Instagram.

Cheri just started reaching out to influencers, and she's in the process of doing 3 sponsored stories - she promised to report back to us on how it went!

Basic pricing for a sponsored story is about $10 per story per 10,000 followers.  So if you want an Influencer with $50,000 followers to create a story with your product, you'd likely pay about $50 for the story.  An Influencer with 250,000 followers will generally charge about $500 to post a story.

Once Upon a Time...

We're pretty sure Wanelo stories don't have anything to do with Snow White... so how do they work?

A story generally has about 9 products in it.  Users create stories that have a certain look or feel.  The products all pair well together and tell a "story" about a certain person who would use those products.

When you save a story to your Wanelo feed, it goes out to your followers.  Each product in the story has a photo as well as a link to the product so customers can either purchase the item on the site or be redirected to buy off site.

Cheri shared Several Tips for Using Stories:

  • Use a story to announce a sale.
  • Use a story to host a contest.
  • Work with brands whose ideal customer is similar to yours so by posting a story that includes each of your products, you gain shared access to each other's followers. (In this way, a story is similar to a loop giveaway - but you didn't have to give any products away.)
  • Post stories at peak engagement times. For Cheri, this is between 8-10 PM Central time. She gets triple to quadruple the engagement on her stories at peak times.
  • Recency and Engagement both matter for getting more eyes on your story. So the feed is similar to Facebook. Influencers with lots of followers who like and interact with a story with see that story rise to prominence in the feed.
  • Create stories that don't just feature your own products but other products too. Cheri posts shared stories 80% of the time, and then her own specific story about 20% of the time.
    Interestingly enough, Cheri gets a higher level of engagement when she shares her own products, but sharing other stories helps her to share the love, network, and find new people to partner with.

How to Get your Brand Page on Wanelo

If you don't have a Shopify store, it can be a drawn-out process to create your Brand page on the site.

You have to submit your feed, Wanelo will approve it, and then you can manually import your products into your feed.  Wanelo is made up of a small team of people, so it's a drawn-out process to get your brand going on the site.

However, if you're on Etsy, you're in luck.  Etsy is a bit more tightly woven into the set-up process, so getting your feed approved for your Etsy shop is a bit easier.

Outfy

There's a new tool for e-commerce sites called Outfy.com, and Cheri is really excited about it!

It helps you promote and schedule your products on social media and e-commerce networks.  Outfy integrates with Polyvore, WeHeartIt, Keep, Instagram, and Pinterest.

You can schedule 10-15 of your products  to go out to each platform each day of the week in just 5-10 minutes' time.  You can try 50 shares for free if you're a new account.

Cheri has been using Outfy for two weeks, and she's already seen a dramatic increase in sales as a result.

Cheri's Secret Weapon

Since Cheri sells directly on several sites such as Wanelo, Amazon, and her own website, we were curious about how she keeps her orders straight.

Cheri says that Ship Station is her secret weapon!  All of the platforms where she sells are connected through Ship Station.  She pushes one button to import all of her orders, and a few clicks later she's printed out all of her labels for the day.  Cheri says it's like having a shipping assistant!

Some Features of ShipStation that Cheri Loves:

  • Saves data for product weights. Ship Station will automatically calculate the shipping cost for each order because it's programmed with all the product weights.
  • Saves shipping costs on multiple orders. If a customer makes multiple orders within 24 hours, Ship Station will notify Cheri so she can group their orders together and save on shipping costs.
  • Projects inventory and sales. Ship Station will let Cheri know how many orders she's done in a given week and whether she's up or down in her sales
  • Tracks Turnaround Times. Ship Station will let Cheri know if she's taking longer than 2 days to ship her orders (which is her personal goal.) If she sees orders sitting for 3 days, she knows exactly what to prioritize.

Productivity Tips

Cheri often gets 100 orders or more each day, so staying on top of her workflow is incredibly important!

  • Set aside designated days to make products. Cheri sets aside two work days per week to just turn out more products and build up her inventory.
  • Leave room for creativity! Because Cheri loves creating new products, she allows her time each day to create, but this is completely separate from her inventory build time.
  • Package orders in bulk. Cheri can package about 150-200 orders in 2.5 hours . This is possible because her inventory is already made and organized, and she has her trusty tool, Ship Station to help!
  • Scale back to ease stress. If you're struggling to stay on top of inventory with your own small business, Cheri recommends you scale back your offerings until you can build up that inventory. It will ease your stress a great deal when you can stop making products on demand.

When your Business Feels like Cleaning the Toilets

Cheri strongly believes that you should price higher for custom orders and for products you simply don't like to make!  Your time, effort, and sanity are worth that higher price.  (We agree!)

Cheri makes a pressed eyeshadow that takes her more time, and she doesn't like making it.  But she has customers who really want that particular product.  So... she raises the price... by a lot!

We all agreed that the same premium pricing should apply to our household chores.  Triple the price for cleaning toilets :)  

Cheri's Magical Mom Moment ;)

Cheri had a really sweet moment with her two girls the other week.  Maybe they haven't outgrown the magic of childhood just yet!

Stay in touch with Cheri

Orglamix.com

To connect with Cheri in our Facebook group, you can sign up for our list and we'll send you an invite!

Direct download: Episode2010120Cheri20Tracy_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:13am EDT

Bloggers have unique business expenses, especially when it comes to materials and supplies for blog projects.  What is a legitimate business expense for a blogger?  What can they deduct?

I have heard this question voiced so many times: which business expenses for bloggers are tax deductible?

Many business expenses that bloggers incur are similar to other fields, or are clearly deductible.  However, when it comes to the supplies and materials that bloggers purchase for their projects and posts, the waters get a little murky.  These supplies and materials expenses will be the focus of our discussion today.

Can you deduct blogging supplies and materials as a business expense?

Most blog niches (DIY, home décor, food just to name a few) rely on blog posts with a project of some type.  Spending money on supplies is necessary in order to offer tested instructions and beautiful step by step photos to your readers.  Readers don't flock to a DIY blog with no projects or a food blog where no food is made!  But all the supplies, materials, and ingredients can really add up!  How much can you treat as a business expense?  What can you deduct on your taxes?

Why am I qualified to talk about business expenses and taxes?  I am an accountant, and I do have my CPA  license.   However, the tax code is lengthy and complicated, and I do not presume to know everything about taxes.  The advice offered here is my opinion.  I have done my best to present accurate advice that is well researched based upon my knowledge and the resources provided on IRS.gov, however you must use your own best judgement and that of your tax professional when preparing your tax return.

What does the IRS say?

Although the IRS tax code covers many topics in depth, they have yet to publish any definitive guidance to bloggers on how to specifically handle many of the financial situations that bloggers encounter every day.  In the absence of direct guidance, we must lean on general tax advice to determine what constitutes a business expenses for bloggers.

According to the IRS, a business "may deduct ordinary and necessary expenses for conducting a trade or business."  The IRS deems ordinary business expenses as any that are "common and accepted in your trade or business."  So ask yourself, what do others in my industry have as business expenses?  The IRS views necessary expenses as those that are "helpful and appropriate for your trade or business."  The IRS does state that an expense does not have to be "indispensable to be considered necessary."

The other area related to expenses that you need to be careful about is determining whether an expense is truly for a business purpose, or whether it has a personal use as well.  Some items are both personal and business related.  The IRS does allow you to pro-rate and deduct the business portion on your tax return.

For the purpose of this discussion, keep in mind "business expense" and "tax deductible" are interchangeable terminology.

Business Expenses for Bloggers

Let's discuss a few examples that I made up!

Let's say you are a home décor DIY blogger who is re-painting a table you bought at a thrift store.  You are taking step by step photos as you go along, and do a nice post about the table when you are done.  The table then becomes a permanent fixture in your home.  There are several things to consider when deciding what is tax deductible.  In my opinion, most likely many of the supplies required to repaint the table are tax deductible.  These materials were an ordinary and necessary expense in order for you to blog about fixing up the table.  Some of these materials might include sand paper, primer, or paint.  And most likely any left over will be used on future blog projects.  The table is where it gets trickier.  Although the table was ordinary and necessary for your blog post project, you now use the table everyday so it certainly has a personal component.  You might consider allocating only a portion of the table as a business expense.  If however you are a blogger that fixes up furniture and then sells it, or you gave the table away when you were finished, then it seems as though the entire cost of the table would be tax deductible.

Lets say you are a food blogger who blogs only about cake.  Each time you go to the grocery store, all the food you buy for your family to eat for their every day meals is not tax deductible just because you have a food blog.  The ingredients you buy to make your famous German Chocolate Cake which you blog about would be tax deductible.  If your son is having a birthday party, and you need several cakes for the party, so you buy the ingredients for 3 of your famous German Chocolate Cakes, then I would say that only the ingredients for one chocolate cake are tax deductible, not for all three.

I would urge you to err on the side of caution.  Don't push the envelope to see what you can get away with.  Be conservative on what you deem is ordinary and necessary for your blog, and what is for personal or business use.

Keep Excellent Records

It is also important to keep excellent records.  When you go the grocery store and purchase the ingredients for your german chocolate cake along with your families groceries for the week, pay for the german chocolate cake items in a separate transaction.  This is where keeping your business finances separate is important.  I discussed this in Episode 46.  Jot down on your separate receipt what the materials or ingredients were for.  Possibly even mark down the date the blog post went live.  The more information  you can provide to substantiate that these items were for a business purpose, the better.

What About Sponsored Posts?

In the case of a project you do for a sponsored post, I think you can make a stronger argument that the expenses you incurred were ordinary, necessary, and purely business related.  Expenses incurred for the direct production of revenue are more than likely deductible, and often these purchases are not items you will continue to use for personal use.  They are items you needed in order to complete the project and get paid by the sponsoring company.

Although I'm sure you wish I was able to give you a much more straightforward answer, I hope you now have the tools to judge for yourself which items are deductible on your tax return.  Each bloggers situation will be different due to what they blog about, and each post will need to be evaluated based on the IRS criterion for business expenses.  Remember to ask if the expense is ordinary, necessary, or of a personal nature.

I discussed this tax issue as well as several other tax topics with Abby of Just a Girl and Her Blog as part of her Building a Framework video series of 16 experts.  Abby interviewed many bloggers on their area of expertise, and has compiled a great resource for other bloggers.

You can also find other accounting and tax related small business topics on our Small Business Accounting and Tax Help Pinterest Board.

You can find me in our private Facebook group if you have questions related to this topic.  To join the Facebook group, just sign up for our email list and you'll receive an invitation by email within a week or two.

Be Brilliant!

-Sarah

In accordance with IRS Circular 230, we advise you that any discussion of a federal tax issue in this communication is not intended to be used, and cannot be used, by any recipient, for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed on the recipient under US Federal Tax Laws.

Direct download: Episode2010020Blogger20Business20Expenses20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:30am EDT

Such great, balanced tips.  And I love her down-to-earth style!  Business advice from Christy Wright.  | brilliantbusinessmoms.com/99

Is it possible to create a business with little start-up funds, and make money doing something you already love? Christy Wright says yes! Not only is she a Certified Business Coach, she's started two side businesses herself. Christy is so down-to-earth yet incredibly wise. You're going to love this farm-girl-at-heart's story and advice!

On the Podcast

02:24 - What the Beach has to do with Big Goals
04:09 - 3 Tips for Going Pro as a Speaker
08:00 - 2 Tips for a Brand New Business Mom
10:41 - Remember that One Time When Christy was a Farmpreneur?
16:41 - Stop Selling and Start Sharing
20:35 - How to be Authentic
22:53 - The Wow Person and the How Person
26:09 - Juggling Tips (i.e. Keep your Eye on the Ball!)
31:29 - A Closet and Some Make-Up... why they could be the key to your productivity!
36:41 - Christy's Initiation into #MomLife

Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to Hear from Christy Wright

What the Beach has to do with Big Goals

Every year, Christy and her girl friends go on a trip together. Several years ago, they were at the beach. They sat around and dreamed about what they wanted to do by the time they got together for their trip the next year. One friend wanted to buy a house, and one wanted to further her music career. Christy said she wanted to become a life coach.

Christy realized in that moment how much she loves to help people and work with them one-on-one to accomplish their goals. She's helped people to complete marathons and working for Dave Ramsey she works with people one-on-one to help them become debt-free.

Since Christy wanted to go all-in on this goal and make things official, she found the most credible organization she could for coaching. It's called The International Coach Federation. You can specialize in many different types of coaching, and Christy decided to become a certified business coach.

3 Tips for Going Pro as a Speaker

1. Just start! Give yourself permission to be a beginner. Christy says she spent more Friday nights than she can count speaking at Kentucky public libraries to an audience of 5 people. She's spoken in High School cafeterias, and even huge auditoriums meant to seat 1000 people where onlny 3 people showed up! (One person fell asleep and one person was on her cell phone...)

Christy loves the quote: "Comparison is the thief of joy." She says that if you compare yourself to someone who's much farther down the road than you, you'll get discouraged. Just get tons of practice and experience, and you'll get better. Getting great at something takes time.

2. Video yourself. Set up a tripod with your iPhone, and give your talk. Practice by yourself with the camera or gather a few friends or family. Watching videos of yourself can be brutal, but it will make you so much more aware of any tics you have, words you always use, posture or fidgeting. It's eye-opening to see yourself on video.

3. Take notes. When you're at a conference or at church, and there's a great speaker, take notes! Don't just write about their content but on how they did it. Did they make you laugh within 2 minutes and get you involved in the talk within 7 minutes? What methods did they use to keep your attention and impact you with their words? Christy says there's a strategy and a science to speaking that we may not be aware of.

2 Tips for a Brand New Business Mom

When we've just come up with our great big idea or goal, it can feel overwhelming thinking about everything we need to do to get started. How can a busy mom get past the overwhelm and make progress?

1. Make a Plan. The unknown is the root of so much stress in our lives. Christy encourages women to make a simple list of everything they need to do to get going with their business. Make a plan for how you'll get started. When you have everything down on paper, you'll be so much less overwhelmed because you can clearly see what's in front of you.

Writing things out on paper also has another benefit. It keeps you focused. When you realize you've just spent 8 hours choosing themes, colors, and photos when your true priority is getting customers and revenue, having that plan with solid tasks will help you to stay on track Christy encourages women to just get started! You don't need anything fancy to get going. "Start simply."

2. Get Others to Help. There are tons of people around you that probably have skills, resources, and connections that can help you reach your goal. Maybe you have a graphic designer friend. Or maybe when you mention your new business plan, an acquaintance will know someone great who can help. We have so many resources at our disposal than we realize.

Remember that One Time When Christy was a Farmpreneur?

Christy's had a few side businesses of her own, so we just had to ask her about them! (We're so glad we did!)
Christy started her first side business at 22 years old. She had just graduated college and was working full-time for a non-profit. She thought it'd be really great to move to a 40-acre farm! It had always been a dream of hers to live on a farm. There was a house and an 11-stall barn. But Christy couldn't afford the rent at this farm, so she decided to start a side business.

Instead of starting from scratch, Christy used what she had. She already knew how to take care of horses and she had an 11-stall barn at her disposal, so she started a horse-boarding businesses.

For years Christy was able to live the farm dream with this business! She had horses, goats, and a miniature donkey, but Christy also says she had to spend her weekends cutting and baling hay.

She'd love to live on a farm again someday, but she plans on having more money at her disposal so she can pay someone else to do all of the heavy lifting!

Christy's first side business offers a great tip for all of us: When it comes to starting a business, think about what you already have. What are you good at? What resources are at your disposal? You can remove the barriers to starting and growing a business when you don't have to start completely from scratch.

Stop Selling and Start Sharing

When Christy does research on women with side businesses, she asks them how they feel about selling. They say things like, ""I'm uncomfortable, I don't know how, I don't know what to say, or I don't want to be pushy."

A couple of questions later, Christy asks them, "Tell me about why you want to do this" and the women would talk about the joy it brought them...little girls at church wearing dresses they made.... or websites going up that they designed. These same women just came alive when they shared their story. And just by listening to them, Christy immediately wanted to buy their product!

Start Sharing: When you're in your comfort zone and sharing your heart with people, the sale will follow.
Christy says that industries and companies portray sales as this evil thing, but it doesn't have to look that way. Sales is really influence, and you're already doing it all the time!

Are you married? That's sales! You convinced someone that you are awesome enough to marry!

Did your kids eat dinner last night? That's sales! You convinced them to eat their broccoli!

Use your influence to be likeable, persuasive, and share your story. The sale will follow.

Christy addresses so many of the issues women face when starting a business at her Business Boutique Event happening this Fall in Nashville.

How to be Authentic

Related to sharing our story, an important aspect of influencing others is being authentic. How can we do this when it comes to our business?

Christy believes that everyone should write out a mission statement for their business. Write out your big vision and goals. Why are you doing what you're doing? To keep that focus, Christy recommends the book, Start with Why by Simon Sinek. (Or you can watch his TED Talk.)  

In "Start with Why" Sinek says that people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Once you've decided on your "why" along with the big goals that will help you to get there, it will help you to stay on track. There are so many opportunities in the marketplace, but when we keep our mission in mind, we won't be so easily distracted.

The Wow Person and the How Person

Christy shared an adorable analogy that described Sarah and my work relationship so well!
In every relationship there's a Wow Person and a How Person.

The Wow Person is always saying things like, "Wow I have a new idea! Wow this is amazing!" But the How Person thinks, "How are we going to do this? How will it be executed? "

(Can you guess who's the Wow and How Person between Sarah and I? Also, can you guess whether Christy or her husband is the Wow person?)

Christy's Advice to make the relationship work: When the Wow Person comes in with 5,000 ideas, the How Person should not ask any How questions for at least 24 hours. They just have to be excited. After 24 hours, if the Wow Person is still talking about the idea, then they can ask some questions! (But chances are, the Wow Person has already moved on to 5,000 new ideas!)

Juggling Tips (i.e. Keep your Eye on the Ball!)

Juggling life and work as a busy mom is not easy. Christy shared a few tips that have been so helpful to her as a new mom.

1. Focus on what's in front of you. If Christy focuses on what she left behind, for example - her son being at daycare - she won't be able to focus on the important work that's right in front of her. Conversely, if she's at home with her son and thinking about problems at work, the same thing happens. Christy chooses to look through the front windshield instead of in the rearview mirror.

2. Set goals for yourself to keep your priorities in line. This goes along with point #1. When you've decided what's most important to you, and you've set aside time for those most important things each week, you can leave the guilt behind knowing you've done what you set out to do.

For example, maybe you've set a goal to work on your business for 10 hours a week and spend quality time with your kids for 10 hours a week. Since the need is unending both in business and at home, you can eliminate the guilt if you've met your own goal for the week. Feel good about what you've done and how you've kept your priorities in line.

Maybe you didn't get to braid your daughter's hair tonight, but you're going shopping this weekend, did homework yesterday, and you went to her soccer game today. Feel good about meeting your goals.
Moms feel guilty no matter what path they choose. Women that work full-time jobs feel guilty for not spending more time with their kids. Women who stay home feel guilty about their identity and roles.

Don't compare yourself to other women and other moms, but decide for yourself what's important to you and focus on meeting your own goals. (Not anyone else's!)

A Closet and Some Make-Up... why they could be the key to your productivity!

Christy shared two great tips on how to make working from home work for you.

1.) Set aside some space. Create an area in your home that's dedicated to the business. Otherwise, you'll find yourself with piles of laundry...on top of orders... on top of takeout...on top of tax forms. It starts to feel like the business is taking over because visually, it is taking over! Block off a space in the house where you go to work.
That space trains your mind to get into work mode, and it also serves as a visual cue for your kids that Mommy is in work mode.

(If your space is tiny like Beth Anne's maybe it's just a corner of your closet!)

2.) Set a schedule. When you're working from home, it's easy to stay in your PJ's until 2 in the afternoon. But even if you got a few things done, you'll probably feel more scattered and distracted if you don't get up and get ready for your day. Create structure for yourself. Have a set time to "start at the office" and take a shower and get ready so you'll feel more energetic, productive, and focused. 

Christy's Initiation into #MomLife

Tune into the podcast to hear Christy's funny story of her initiation into the real world of motherhood! It happened on her first day back at work... when she had a gig on TV....(of course!)

Stay in touch with Christy

ChristyWright.com

Or see her in real life at her brand new event in Nashville :)

Christy Wright's Business Boutique

Direct download: Episode209920Christy20Wright20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:33am EDT

Love this interview because Kristy has experience working with brands and not just as a blogger.  She knows how both sides work - such great advice on sponsored posts!  | brilliantbusinessmoms.com/98

Did you know there are some bloggers who make most of their income by creating awesome sponsored content? What if you could do the same? And nope, it doesn't involve being a sell-out. ..not for a second. Kristy Ellington has a unique perspective on the world of sponsored posts because she's a blogger herself but she's also a Brand Content Strategist for PopSugar. She works directly with big brands to help them develop their campaigns through sponsored posts.

Kristy has tons of great advice to share . I walked away from our interview with her feeling so much more prepared to tackle sponsored content in a way that felt great for everyone involved. I know you'll grab lots of practical advice to grow your blog too!

On the Podcast

01:04 - The Changing Face of Advertising
03:34 - Who's More Important? The Reader or the Brand?
04:33 - Four Ways to Earn More Money through Sponsored Posts
06:08 - Which Metrics Matter?
08:30 - How to Create a Smooth Sponsored Post
11:39 - How Much is Too Much?
14:37 - 4 Tips on Fostering a Long-Term Relationship with Brands
17:03 - The Personal Touch that Will Set You Apart
18:08 - The Pros and Cons of Blogger Networks
20:45 - The Formidable 7-Letter Word
22:44 - The Pretty Little Package Every Blogger Needs
25:58 - A Form of Blindness that Affects us All
28:44 - How to Price your Posts
32:42 - Are you Costing Yourself Readers?
37:35 - Kristy's Adorable Mom Moment

Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to Learn How to Create Seamless Sponsored Content

The Changing Face of Advertising

For the past several years Kristy Ellington has been working directly with brands as a Brand Content Specialist at PopSugar.

Many brands approach PopSugar for advertising space, but Kristy has a much better solution for them: a brand content strategy. She's learned the ins and outs of what makes people respond well to a given blog post or brand message.

A content strategy is incredibly powerful for a brand, because unlike a banner ad, people will often share a blog post that really resonates with them. If a brand can create sponsored content that's helpful and meaningful to a given audience, their message will be shared and make a much bigger impact.

Who's More Important? The Reader or the Brand?

Kristy's number one goal in working with brands is to create content that's valuable to the reader. This comes well before she considers what the brand wants to get out of the partnership.

If the content doesn't resonate with readers, they won't remember it, interact with it, or share it with others, and the brand's campaign will be pointless.
Content comes first, and brand integration comes second.

Four Ways to Earn More Money through Sponsored Posts

  1. Create valuable content. The blog post you write, has to be helpful to your audience, first and foremost. How can you solve a problem? What's the hook? When you write high-quality sponsored posts brands will take notice.
  2. Present your blog in a professional way. If you're creating sponsored content, chances are you're blogging to earn some income. Think of your blog as a business, and it will inform everything you do - from the quality of posts you write to the way you communicate with brands. Be professional and take yourself seriously.
  3. Invest money in excellent blog design. The more professional your site looks, the more brands are willing to work with you. Does your blog tell people that it's a business or just a casual online journal?
  4. Let your metrics tell a story about who your audience is. You don't have to get 100,000 visitors to your site each month in order to be a valuable asset for a brand. Get to know who your audience is. What are their demographics and interests? What types of posts really resonate with them? In this way, you'll prove that you're valuable to the brands that want to get in front of your specific audience.

Which Metrics Matter?

When it comes to blog metrics, monthly pageviews is just one piece of the puzzle.

Many brands are now focusing more on engagement or attention metrics. These include:

  1. The number of shares a given post receives.
  2. The number of comments on a given post.
  3. The amount of time people spend on your post page. You want to a low bounce rate and a high average time on page.

When you have strong attention metrics, your readers are consuming more of your content. The brand's message will come across more effectively as well.

Kristy likes to say that 100 passionate readers are so much more valuable than 10,000 passive readers. Passionate readers comment, share, and provide word-of-mouth advertising for you and your blog. A brand can leverage this same power through a sponsored post with you.

How to Create a Smooth Sponsored Post

  1. Don't do a product review. Brands want something that is more natural.
  2. Insert the brand in a way that is natural and flows along with the helpful content.  Be subtle but effective.
  3. Keep the brand objectives in mind. Do they want more clicks to a certain landing page? More product purchases? This will frame the way you talk about them.
  4. Be certain that you are excited about the given product or promotion. This will come across in your writing. You must be genuine.
  5. Make sure you've written about the given topic before so that it blends seamlessly into your blog's content rather than stick out like a sore thumb.

Below is an example of the same exact brand message working for two very different bloggers. They can both promote the brand well, but they had to get creative to make sure the way they wrote both highlighted the brand but also fit seamlessly into their regular blog content.

The Brand: Nordstrom approaches bloggers to talk about their fall sale. Their goal is to get more clicks on their landing page introducing the sale.

Fashion Blogger Approach: This blogger could go the extra mile and ask if she can get a few items on loan to use in her post. She creates a fashion tutorial on how to style flannel in 5 different ways. She intersperses links back to their sale but also provides incredibly valuable, helpful content to her readers who are bound to pin that post or share it in other ways on social media.

Mom Blogger Approach: A mom blogger who talks about parenting tips and shopping can write a post on How to Teach your Kids Shopping Etiquette. This blogger is equally excited about the sale, but she knows her readers want to know how to keep their kids from going crazy while they're in a busy store. They want both mom and child to have a great time and feel equipped to hit the sale.

How Much is Too Much?

Every blog is different, but there are some general guidelines you can use to determine if you're sharing sponsored content too often.

For example, if you post 5 times per week, then 2-3 sponsored posts per month is a completely acceptable number.

However, you could also choose to do just one sponsored post per month, and in this case, you can charge more for that sponsored post because of scarcity. That one post packs a big punch because they don't happen often.

Kristy's advice is to start out slow with sponsored posts and slowly increase the number. You have to remember that you're blogging for your audience first, and you don't want to go too far and alienate people.

There's your Sign:
If you see comments and shares go down on your posts, and overall excitement for your content wane, there's your sign that you're putting out too much sponsored content and not enough content that your readers get excited about.

4 Tips on Fostering a Long-Term Relationship with Brands

  1. Be upfront with brands on what you will and will not do. Let them know how many times you will mention them in a post, or how many social shares you'll provide.
  2. Take into account the brand's message and objective when creating content for them. Ask yourself, "how can I align my content with their message?"
  3. View yourself as working on a team with the brand. It's a partnership. You're both working together to help the brand accomplish its goals, while simultaneously helping you to create great content for your readers.
  4. Write a wrap-up report to show the brand how you've worked hard to achieve their objectives. Let them know how many views, clicks, and social shares the blog post got. Lay everything out for them so they can assess the results of the partnership.

The Personal Touch that Will Set You Apart

While a wrap-up report is generally done at the agency level for the brand's campaign as a whole, you can set yourself apart as a blogger by doing one yourself.

A Wrap-Up Report Lets You:

  1. Go the extra mile. Let the brand know what results you helped them achieve and that you take your job as a blogger seriously.
  2. Send a final message to the brand. Let them know you enjoyed working with them and you'd love to do so again.
  3. Include your Contact Information. This makes it easy for the brand to get in touch with you personally rather than just hearing about their new campaigns through a blogging network.
  4. Propose Ideas for Future Partnerships. Suggest a few ways you can work together in the future based on some big projects you have coming up on your blog. Keep the door and lines of communication open.

The Pros and Cons of Blogger Networks

Pros: Networks are great for bloggers who don't have a lot of time to act as their own PR agent. The networks send you a message about a given brand campaign and ask you if you want to be involved. They have a set price, so you don't have to negotiate. You just apply for the opportunities you're interested in - easy-peasy.

Cons: Blogger Networks can limit your exposure to the brands you can work with because all of your income has to come through them. In many cases, you sign a contract saying that you won't approach a brand outside of the agency. They're obligated to act as your PR agent.

Pros of Going Solo: Partnering with brands on your own allows you to be more flexible. You can negotiate terms and fees, add and subtract things, and come up with creative new ways to earn revenue. For example, you could start with a sponsored Instagram post, but come up with the idea for a great blog post later. If you're working on your own, it's easy to contact the brand and see if they're interested in more sponsored content from you.

The Formidable 7-Letter Word

CONTRACT

It sounds scary and complicated, but it's really for your protection and peace of mind, as well as that of the brand's. Kristy always recommends using a contract when you work with a brand. In general, they'll supply the contract, but there are certain things to keep in mind before you sign on the dotted line.

  • Everything is negotiable. Don't be afraid to ask for things you might want or need. When working with a great brand, you should have clear communication with their representatives, and that won't be a problem.
  • Spell out the number of social promotions you'll be doing.
  • Set a clear timeline as to when your post will be published.
  • Decide on how many revisions you'll allow between you and the brand. (Kristy has heard of some bloggers working through 20 rounds of revisions for a single post! There's no way this is worth it!) 
  • Set your price and get paid upfront. This way, the brand can't back out and decide not to pay you after you've invested hours of work creating content for them.

The Pretty Little Package Every Blogger Needs

Kristy recommends that every blogger create and have available on their site a Sponsored Post Package.

  • The Package makes it easy for brands to know whether you'd like to work with them or not. They don't have to hunt around and figure out if you accept sponsored posts or what your rates are.
  • The Package elevates your status as a more professional blogger
  • The Package helps you to earn more money by creating several tiers of packages for brands to choose from.

Below is an example of three package tiers you could offer:

Package 1: A sponsored post, 3 social media shares, and a traffic number guarantee.
Package 2: Everything in package 1 plus a mention in your email newsletter.
Package 3: Everything in Package 1 and 2 plus a Twitter Party, Google Hangout, or Original Photography for the post.

Make it easy for a brand to say yes to working with you! And make it easy for you to get paid what you're worth.

A Form of Blindness that Affects us All

Kristy says it's been proven that banner blindness is an actual occurrence. Internet users have become so accustomed to ads on a website that they simply don't look in those areas anymore. No one pays attention to banner ads anymore.

The other reason banner ads are dying? The increase in mobile traffic across the web. Websites that are mobile optimized might not even display the ads, and non-optimized sites are so small you'll never notice them.

What should you do with that space instead? Promote your own work. Link back to other blog posts, put your Etsy shop there, or add a Pinterest widget. Use the sidebar and banner areas to keep people in your ecosystem. In this way, your readers are used to seeing you and your great content there and will be more likely to still pay attention to those areas of your site.

Kristy does not recommend you offer banner ads when you work with brands. There are much better ways to communicate their message to the world.

How to Price your Posts

Kristy has a great podcast episode and a free worksheet on how to figure out your rate for a sponsored post. There aren't any industry standards or hard and fast rules, but she discusses several factors that play a role and considers blog the blogger's perspective and the brand's.

In general, Kristy says that bloggers tend to underestimate what they're worth and price themselves too low. In the past, they've become too accustomed to accepting products in exchange for a review. That's not enough anymore.

Brands that reach out to you have done their research. They know that your blog reaches the audience they want to reach - that's worth something, so don't underestimate it.

Are you Costing Yourself Readers?

Kristy says there are two things every blogger should keep in mind with every single post they write. If they don't consider these two, they're costing themselves readers and the potential for growth.

1. EMOTION. Your content should always have emotion. Decide ahead of time what emotion you're trying to convey with your post. Ask yourself, "What do I want people to say when they share this with their friends?" Did it make them laugh, make them cry, or inspire them? The more you can convey emotion in your posts, the more you can touch your readers and cause them to share your content with others.

2. ACTION. With every post, you should have an objective for what you want your readers to do. Do you want them to sign up for your newsletter? Do you want them to buy something? Do you want them to read another post? Know what action you'd like your readers to take, and if you can't think of any, ask yourself why you're writing the post in the first place.

So cute!  Kristy Ellington of Launch Ladies with her little boy and hubby.
Kristy with her family - so cute!

Kristy's Adorable Mom Moment

Kristy and her son, Fisher, had a secret for a few months. It's kind of funny! But at the time, Kristy was frustrated beyond belief that no one else would believe her. Tune in to hear the story.

Stay in Touch with Kristy!

LaunchLadies.com

Direct download: Episode209820Kristy20Ellington_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:30am EDT

This Mamapreneur is such a sweetheart!  She's so passionate about her online boutique.  Loved this interview  | brilliantbusinessmoms.com/97

When you make a sale, what happens next? Are you excited and head for the nearest person to give a high-five? (Or maybe a high-paw with the cat will do!) Are you overwhelmed and wonder how you can fit more work into your day? Are you a mixture of the two?

If you've lost that lovin' feelin' when it comes to your business and the sheer joy that happens when you get to make your customer's day, you've got to listen to Jacqui Nelson's story. Every day, she heads out to her warehouse (otherwise known as the garage!) and steams, folds, writes a hand-written note, and wraps her clothing up like a present. Jacqui says fulfilling orders is her favorite part of running her online women's boutique - SwankyJBoutique.com.

You'll fall back in love with it too when you hear Jacqui's passion for her work and her love for making customers happy.

Seriously - her enthusiasm is infectious!

On the Podcast

01:05 - A Natural Saleswoman
09:56 - So... how fast can you launch an online business?
13:50 - How to Free up Cash for Inventory
15:30 - Jacqui's Knight in Shining Flight Suit
16:59 - To Market
20:16 - Tips on Going to Market as a Brand New Business Owner
22:53 - How to get in "the club"
24:48 - Shopify vs. Squarespace
30:05 - Let the People Speak!
32:36 - Packaging Presents
36:07 - Growing a Boutique with good 'ol Zuck
44:46 - Jacqui's Adorable Mom Moment

A Natural Saleswoman

Jacqui says she was born as a natural sales person. Although part of her hates that phrase, because it somehow it brings us back to a used car lot. Jacqui views her sales ability as the knack for finding just the right thing that will make someone happy.

From door-to-door selling as a girl to selling jewelry with a team of women, Jacqui's done it all. She's sold over 1.5 million in real estate and coordinated events too!

When Jacqui had her first child, Skyler, she cut back on her work hours, shifted away from real estate, and chose to work part-time at a local clothing boutique. But Jacqui's passion for marketing couldn't be squelched! She loved working at the boutique and came up with the idea to build a website for them and manage their social media. Unfortunately, the boutique didn't bite.

Jacqui couldn't get this passion for an online business out of her head, so after lying awake one night thinking about it, she turned to her husband Kenny and said, "I think this is it, I'm going to do this!"  That was December of 2014, and by January of 2015 - SwankyJBoutique had been filed as a legal business. In March of 2015, the online store was launched.

Jacqui, believing she could juggle anything, thought she would keep her part-time job while also running her online boutique. She didn't view her business as competition because she was solely online, and the other store was completely brick and mortar. But the boutique wasn't happy with Jacqui's move and they made her choose: her job or her boutique. Jacqui chose SwankyJBoutique! And looking back, she's so glad her former employer made her choose so she could focus on her business full-time.

"I want to create a lifestyle that my daughter will be proud of someday," Jacqui says.

So... how fast can you launch an online business?

December 2014 - The idea for Swanky J Boutique was born.

January 2015 - Jacqui and Kenny formed an LLC, got their business license, and submitted paperwork for their trademark.

At the end of January, she and Kenny attended Fashion Market in Atlanta to buy inventory for the store. While Jacqui's parents watched baby Skyler, Jacqui and Kenny shopped their hearts out for 3 days!

February 2015 - Jacqui set up photo shoots with models and a professional photographer.

March 1, 2015 - The online store launched to the public!

Jacqui says "I felt like I have actually birthed another human with this business!"

How to Free up Cash for Inventory

During Fashion Market in Atlanta, Jacqui's husband Kenny came up with a novel idea for freeing up more cash to get their initial inventory for the store: develop the website themselves!

They had earmarked $5,000 to have a professional develop their website, but instead they did it themselves and used that money for more inventory.

And SwankyJ's first website was great! It looked lovely and had all the features that an excellent online shop would have. (You won't have a chance to see it because their new website is launching any day now!) No excuses for these two - they just made things happen.

Jacqui's Knight in Shining Flight Suit

Jacqui's husband Kenny (a Marine pilot) has been her biggest supporter in her business.

Despite his demanding career, Kenny has been with her every step of the way. He came to market and helped Jacqui picked out inventory.

He helped her pick a business name and develop the website. Anytime Jacqui has a new idea, she always runs it past Kenny because she knows he'll give her solid advice. "He loves the business as much as I do!" Jacqui says.
We love that! Every great Mamapreneur needs a great guy in her corner!

Mamapreneur Jacqui Nelson with Hubby and Biggest Business Supporter Kenny

To Market

Since we've never been "to market" Jacqui was kind enough to give us the inside scoop on what it's all about!

There are markets all over the U.S. each year - in New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and there's a great one in Atlanta that's within driving distance for Jacqui.  It's called Atlanta's AmericaMart.

It's a humungous building - 11 stories tall - and every square foot of that building is filled with a product that people sell in a store. They have mens wear, children's wear, women's wear, shoes and accessories. There are thousands of vendors who have designed and manufactured these clothing pieces, and they want your business. They want boutique owners like Jacqui to purchase products from them at wholesale prices to sell in their online or brick and mortar shops.

This is the general idea of "markets" although from Jacqui's description, it seems hard to put the chaos of the event into words!

Tips on Going to Market as a Brand New Business Owner

What should you ask? Jacquie found a guide on how to go to market, so she was ready with questions for every vendor she visited.

What's the minimum order? A lot of vendors just require you to buy 1 pack which equals either (2, 2, 2,): 2 smalls, 2 mediums, and 2 larges of one item, or (1, 2, 2, 1) 1 small, 2 mediums, 2 larges, and 1 extra-large. However, some vendors do have a monetary minimum. One vendor Jacqui works with has a minimum order of $100, while another has a $400 minimum, so it can really vary.

How much should you buy? At her first market, Jacqui was looking for a large variety of items in smaller quantities. She wanted to start with a large variety so she could test out what her customers wanted before committing to one particular style or piece of clothing. She started by buying just one pack of each clothing piece.

Do you have to go to market to get your inventory? A lot of vendors have great websites where Jacqui can re-order items. She's done this quite often since launching, and she doesn't need to see the clothing in person once she already carries it and knows that it's high-quality.

How to get in "the club"

How does a new boutique owner get approved to go to a market. Clearly, they have to weed out the fashion lovers who are just looking for a deal!

You have to have your business license, retail license, and EIN number to go to market. You're also supposed to have proof of sales.

So how do you get proof of sales as a brand new business owner? Jacqui spoke with a coordinator and learned that she could get a guest pass for her first day, and once she placed her first purchase order, she could come back to the counter and get a legitimate buyer's pass.

The approval process is similar to order from a vendor's website. Jacqui has to email them her business license and retail license, then they approve her for buying powers on their site.

Shopify vs. Squarespace

Jacqui told us that it was a difficult decision on whether to use shopify or squarespace to set up their online store. They ultimately decided on Shopify, and they've been so happy with it.

Jacqui says it's an amazing tool for their business. The analytics and detailed reports are so helpful. She checks the reports page every day to see where their sales are coming from, what's selling, and more.

How expensive is Shopify?
Shopify has different tiers depending on how big your shop is, but you will pay a monthly rate to use the service. They have lots of templates for your site, and many are free. Jacqui and Kenny paid $150 to choose a custom design and layout for their site.

While their made-from-scratch site has served them well for several months, Jacqui and Kenny are ready to move on to a completely custom site! They've hired a web design company, and their brand new site should be launching soon!

As much as they love their site and are proud of what they did, Jacqui wants SwankyJ to be the next big online retailer, and the only way to do that is to have an extremely professional site. Jacqui wants a customer to be able to search for a red dress in a size 6 and find it immediately. Her current site doesn't have a database system that powerful. The easier Jacqui can make the shopping experience for her customers, the more her business can grow!

Let the People Speak!

One of Jacqui's favorite things about her site is the fact that a customer can leave a review on any product they buy.

Jacqui knows from experience that when she buys something online, she reads every review that the product has first. You want to make sure that whatever you buy you won't have to send back.

To enable reviews, Jacqui pays a monthly fee for an app called Yotpo. Every customer gets an email 7 days after a purchase, and she offers them a coupon code if they rate and review the products.

Jacqui always writes back and thanks customers for their feedback, because she knows their review will help another customer to make a purchase in the future. Most items on the site are 5 stars!

The people have spoken... and the people like SwankyJ.

Packaging Presents

Jacqui says that fulfilling orders is her favorite part of the business. She heads out to her swanky, upscale warehouse (the garage!) finds the piece of clothing that's been ordered: steams it, folds it, puts a hand-written note in, wraps it like a gift, seals it, prints shipping label, and takes it to the post office.

Jacqui knows how excited she gets when she makes an online purchase, and she wants each of her customers to feel like they're receiving a present when their order from SwankyJ arrives. Not to mention, since she steams each item, her customers can show off their brand new clothes right away!

Growing a Boutique with good 'ol Zuck

Jacqui currently has 13,000 Facebook Fans, and she's only been in business for 5 months! Her growth has been impressive, and she shared four great tips on how she's done it.

  1. Use Facebook Ads. Jacqui gained momentum for her business quickly by gaining 500 likes within the first few days of launching! People were spreading the word, but that initial momentum began to die down. To revive her growth, Jacqui started experimenting with Facebook ads. In her ads, she mentioned that "SwankyJ would be your favorite place to shop", and "free shipping on all orders over $50"
  2. Choose Vibrant Photos that Pop Against Facebook's background. Jacqui already had beautiful professional photos for her shop, so it was easy to create an ad that really stood out in someone's Facebook feed.
  3. Join the Facebook VIP Program. Jacqui was spending $15 per day on her campaigns, and after some time, she got a call from Facebook asking if she wanted to join their VIP program. As long as Jacqui continues to spend money on advertising, they would coach her on how to improve her ads. For 7-8 weeks Jacqui coached with Facebook once per week. She learned how to create better ads, how to tailor an ad to a specific audience or market, and how to create custom audiences.  Jacqui says she spent quite a bit of money in the class, but she learned a ton!
  4. Host Giveaways. Jacqui does a giveaway every Monday, and she loves it! Jacqui boosts her giveaway for $5/day for 3 days. It might not make sense to pay $15 each week just to give something away, but that money comes back to SwankyJ in the form of new fans and new loyal customers.

Jacqui is willing to spend money on advertising a giveaway for 3 reasons:

  1. Someone else's happiness
  2. The exposure
  3. Potentially gaining a customer for life

Jacqui says she encounters skeptics or want to know if she's paid for her likes. She says, "absolutely not" She pays to advertise on Facebook, but those fans have seen an ad and chosen to interact with her page and like it. They are genuine followers who are interested in her brand, not random people being paid to click like on a page.

Jacqui's Adorable Mom Moment

Milspouse-and-Mompreneur-Jacqui-Nelson

Listen to hear what happened when Jacqui brought her little girl Skyler to work in the "warehouse" one day. It's so cute!

Stay in touch with Jacqui!

Jacqui's new site is launching soon!  She's got an adorable girl boss tee, so feel free to bookmark the site so you can stop back when it launches.

SwankyJBoutique.com

Direct download: Episode209720Jacqui20Nelson_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:12am EDT

Love this interview.  A former magazine editor turned ghost blogger.  She's amazing!  |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com/96

Finding your voice can feel like a mystery. There are clues, of course: a fingerprint of ideas here, a scrap of inspiration there, but putting all the pieces together can feel like mission impossible. Relax, Ace. Lacy Boggs, Director of the Content Agency is hot on the case.

On the Podcast

01:04 - The Important Clue that Led to Lacy's Business
03:26 - The Mysterious Life of a Ghost Blogger
05:14 - Lacy's Assignments
05:59 - How to go Undercover
09:08 - Face-Off
11:13 - Secret Agent Lacy Boggs
15:14 - Get out your Magnifying Glass & Find that Hook!
18:37 - Traffic Footprints
25:12 - Tips for Cracking the Case Faster
29:02 - On the Hunt for the Right Topic
32:34 - Mission Accomplished for Product-Based Businesses
40:50 - How Agent Lacy Completes her Mission
44:05 - Agent Lacy's Adorable Mom Moment

Press play on the podcast player below to receive your mission from Lacy, should you choose to accept it.

The Important Clue that Led to Lacy's Business

5 years ago, Lacy she was the associate editor and food editor for a local magazine in Colorado. It was a 60+ hour per week job, and when she became pregnant she realized that she wanted life with a baby to look a little different.

Lacy quit her job and started a food blog. She was able to grow an audience fairly quickly, and she landed some amazing guest posting gigs. Lacy even guest posted on one of Martha Stewart's blogs for a while! But Lacy picked the niche of moms who want to live a foodie lifestyle on a budget. She just wasn't making any money growing this particular audience.

Despite her lack of income, Lacy discovered an important clue that led to her current business: She's great at blogging! Lacy started a ghost blogging company, The Content Direction Agency, to write blog posts for other businesses and entrepreneurs. Her business took off. Now she's more than doubled her magazine salary, and she only works 20-25 hours per week, so she can spend most of her time with her four year-old daughter.

The Mysterious Life of a Ghost Blogger

Sarah and I had never heard of a ghost blogger before. What is this mysterious new role all about?
Lacy confessed that "ghost blogging" is a term she made up! Essentially, she's a ghost writer for blogs. It's more common in the corporate world, because often a large company will hire a writer to create the content for their blogs.

There's a misconception that if you're a solopreneur or small business owner, you have to write your blog content yourself. Lacy doesn't believe that's true. If you can get your message across more effectively with someone's help, why not?

A lot of Lacy's clients are lifestyle entrepreneurs. She's worked with interior designers, health coaches, personal stylists, and one client is a data analyst and strategist fora Fortune 500 company.

Lacy's Assignments

We were curious about how much content Lacy writes for each of her clients.

Lacy says that it really runs the gamut. She's written published books and e-books for clients, course material, email newsletters, and blog posts.

Lacy gets hired most often to write people's blogs for them, so it's generally one blog post per week.

How to go Undercover

When Lacy writes for her clients, she makes sure the content is seamless. It sounds just like that person, so that no one recognizes that they're reading content published by someone else.

Lacy has always had this undercover skill. She wanted to be a fiction writer when she was a kid, and she used to write novels as a teen. They would sound so much like whichever books she was reading at the time. She's always had a knack for taking on the voice of others.

For entrepreneurs who don't want to hire Lacy to write for them, she has a voice identification process that can help people find their own voice.

The most important thing is to find the small details that set you apart. What's your style? Are you sophisticated or conversastional? What particular words and phrases are unique to you?

Lacy gave us an example of someone who really struggled to share her authentic voice.

A woman who runs surfing camps for women in California came to Lacy for help. Her camps weren't just about surfing, but also a spiritual experience. But her blog was so corporate!

On the phone Lacy could tell right away that she was a bit "woo-woo" and used a lot of surfer lingo. Lacy encouraged the woman to use her surfing lingo, add surfing metaphors, and talk the way she would normally talk. She wasn't serving her audience or giving out a clear message by being so buttoned-up.

Face-Off

It can be really hard not to be two-faced when it comes to our online work. We have one voice and personality in real life, but then we take on a completely different voice online.

We're trained to write a certain way in school, and our own voice is often trained out of us. College and the corporate world strip our style away even more.

Lacy says it's hard to find your voice if you were never allowed to let go and be yourself Lacy's voice recognition process can help you uncover your missing voice.

Secret Agent Lacy Boggs

Sarah and I just love Lacy's secret agent persona on her website. You have to go check it out. We've never seen anything like it!

Sarah Ancalmo helped Lacy to define her hook and then develop her branding from there.

Both Sarah and Lacy believe that you have to come up with your hook and the content first, and then everything else flows from that.

They came up with the idea that Lacy is your secret weapon for blogging. From there, the 40's secret agent theme was born. Lacy says it's her, just dialed up to 11.

To determine your own online persona, you need to define your hook. What's that one statement, visual, or idea that everything else can hang from?

Once Lacy knew that she'd brand herself as the secret weapon for blogging, she was able to choose her first message to her audience: "Are you writing your message in disappearing ink?"

From there, the blog content came, along with pictures in that 40's secret agent style... everything on the site down to the typewriter font they used flows out of that one hook.

We talked a bit about how mom bloggers or Etsy seller blogs can often feel so similar to one another. They all have a cute, pretty type of style. Lacy has some words of wisdom: there is a huge variety of mom bloggers out there - everyone from Deuce to Jen Hatmaker. So don't be afraid to stand out and be different. Find your hook, and be unique.

Get out your Magnifying Glass & Find that Hook!

Lacy says that starting a business is like going through therapy, and finding your hook can be the same way!
You have to look inside, learn about yourself, and learn what you really want in order to find the hook that helps you to stand out.

For Lacy it comes down to figuring out your big why, and that's two-fold.

  1. Why are you doing this? What are you passionate about? What makes you come to work every day?
  2. What is your audience getting out of this? In what way are you serving your people?

Traffic Footprints

Lacy believes that having the right kind of traffic is better than having a ton of traffic.

For example, Lacy has a client who sells weighted blankets for the special needs community. This client could write a great list post on 70 ways to make bedtime easier. Maybe it would go viral and she'd get 100,000 hits. But what percentage of those hits are really going to be in her niche? There might be a few customers in that group, but it would be a very low percentage.

If, on the other hand, she got a guest post on a major mom blog that talked about children with special needs, that traffic would be much more qualified. Every one of those potential site visitors is pre-qualified to become a customer of hers.

Lacy says that creating content for the masses is not necessarily everyone's best game plan for business growth.
Lacy shared another experience from her own blogging career. When she was invited to guest blog on a Martha Stewart website she thought she was made!! She wrote 6 posts before the magazine went under. With those 6 blog posts, she was not able to track a single opt-in to her email list.

On the other hand, she wrote one guest post for a blog called And then we Saved and from that single post she got over 600 opt-ins. Her guest post was targeted, and she was speaking to just the right audience.

The social proof that comes from posting on a big site can be great, but keep in mind that it's just that - social proof, and not necessarily a great way to grow your list, traffic, or business.

Tips for Cracking the Case Faster

Bloggers are busy people. How can we crack the case of writing blog posts faster and move on to the next mission?

Lacy's number one tip for being a more efficient blogger is to start using an editorial calendar.

An editorial calendar helps you to plan out your product and business promotions. For example, if you have a product that sells well around back-to-school, then you want to plan out your blog posts 6-8 weeks before that time. Blog about the summer brain drain or getting kids back on a schedule before school starts.  By blogging on your topic well in advance of your launch, you'll start to generate desire and build anticipation around an event or launch.

Even if you have a service, you can create sales cycles to promote different services at different times of the year. You don't have to discount your services - it's just a natural rhythm of promoting yourself through your content
For example, Lacy has a course called Blog Storm. The course helps people to strategically fill out their editorial calendars. It's a product that people can buy year-round, but by writing specific blog posts in June, people were ready to buy and sign up for July so that they'd have their editorial calendar planned out for the rest of the year.
Lacy generated almost $2,000 in unplanned revenue from writing 2 blog posts and 2 emails full of content related to her course.

An editorial calendar lets you keep the big picture in mind and create a plan to drive revenue.  As Lacy says, "If you're not blogging to support your business, then what are you doing it for?"

On the Hunt for the Right Topic

The best way to discover what to write about is to ask your followers or subscribers what they're struggling with the most.  You can even add it to that thank you email that you send to new subscribers.

Even if the answers you receive don't have anything to do with your industry, you're still learning more about your audience and customers.

Then, use the language your clients are using to talk about the problems they're facing and devise your solution.

Mission Accomplished for Product-Based Businesses

It's often difficult for product-based businesses to figure out what to topics to blog about. They don't want to just share new jewelry photos each day, so what should they do?

Lacy recommends a method called Thinking Sideways.

Shift your perspective from your product to where that product fits into your customer's bigger lifestyle.
Whatever your industry, there's something that your client or customer aspires to. Pick topics that are tangentially related to your product but help your customer reach their aspirations.

For example, Lacy worked with an Etsy seller who created cool jewelry in a Rockabilly type of style. She started thinking about the lifestyle of her customers and realized she could talk about things such as macrame coming back or coloring books for grown-ups. She can go beyond jewelry but describe the lifestyle her jewelry customers would be aspiring to.

One point to remember: Always keep your followers in mind. Talk to your audience - not to other experts. For example, if a photographer wants to start blogging, they'll think, "what do I know about? I got it. I know about photography!" So they'll start sharing what lenses they use and their set-up, and other photographers will love that post. But other photographers aren't hiring them for photography work. Instead, they need to write about how to pick out the outfits to wear to a photo shoot, or 6 poses you should ask for at your next toddler shoot. Then you'll attract the audience that will actually hire you for work.

How Agent Lacy Completes her Mission

As a mom who prioritizes time with her daughter, we were curious about how Lacy manages to work just 25 hours per week!

  1. Learn how to say no. And the crazy thing was as soon as Lacy started saying no, she had a backlog for clients. She's now booked out months in advance for special projects, and she had to hire two additional writers to help her.
  2. Charge more to make your time worth it. Lacy's business coach told her to set little mini goals for herself. For example, every time she gets 3 new clients, she raises her rates by $25. Lacy gets a bit uncomfortable thinking about what she's worth, so setting those little baby steps in between really helped.
  3. Embrace the value of the service or product you offer. Lacy had to embrace the fact that what she does is luxury service. You can get a blog on Fiverr for five dollars...that's not what she does. She had to own her business as being a luxury.

Agent Lacy's Adorable Mom Moment

You'll have to tune in to hear how Lacy knows she made the right choice to become an entrepreneur. The moment she had between her and her daughter is just so sweet.

Stay in Touch with Lacy!

LacyBoggs.com

For loads of free tools from Lacy head to LacyBoggs.com/library 

Direct download: Episode209620Lacy20Boggs_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:14am EDT

Love this business idea.  Sarah Janjirala sells only antique lockets in her shop, and she's awesome at it!  Great interview.  |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com/95

We're so excited to welcome our very first vintage seller onto the show. The vintage scene has exploded on Etsy since its inception, and if you're adept at finding treasures, it may be the perfect fit for you. Sarah Jane Janjirala has created a name for herself by creating a storefront on Etsy, Sweetheart Lane  that's the one-stop shop for the best antique lockets on the market.

Learn the ins and outs of selling vintage, how Sarah has created a system that saves her time, and why niche-ing down can be very profitable.

On the Podcast

00:58 - Don't Go Back to Work. Do This Instead!
02:10 - The Allure of the Locket
03:21 - How to Become an Antique Expert
04:56 - The Narrow Niche Advantage
7:07 - How to Find Vintage Treasures
10:50 - 5 Parts to Pricing
13:06 - What is TCO and Why Does it Matter?
15:43 - Speedy Photo and Listing Tips
19:57 - Growth + Success: Sarah's Secrets
24:10 - What to do with Haters
27:11 - Sarah's C'est La Vie Mom Moment

Press Play on the Podcast Player below to hear the full interview.

Don't Go Back to Work. Do This Instead!

Sarah started her antique locket shop on Etsy just before her first child was born. After a year of running the shop on the side as a hobby, she and her husband had a heart-to-heart conversation. Sarah had a lot of debt from nursing school, and both she and her husband assumed the solution was for her to go back to work. Yet neither of them really loved that option. So, they got creative!

Her husband, who has a background in business looked over her shop and said, "I think you can do something with this!" With his analytical mind, her creative mind, and a lot of focus and hard work, the shop took off!
Keep reading to see what happened to Sarah's school loans... and did she ever go back to work?

The Allure of the Locket

Sarah chose to open an antique locket shop for several reasons.

  1. She grew up around antiques. Her grandfather has one of the largest collections of student lamps from the 1800's. Sarah has always loved and had an appreciation for vintage items.
  2. Lockets are both beautiful and functional. That's often a difficult combination to find.
  3. An antique locket has so much history and meaning attached to it. Sometimes Sarah finds them with a photo still inside, and she's able to pass that along to the locket's new owner.
  4. Antique lockets are much higher quality than jewelry made today. They last so much longer and are a great investment. Sarah says she has lockets that are 110 years old, and she can throw them up against the wall or her kids chew on them, and they're still fine!
  5. There are so many counterfeit vintage lockets. Sarah loves being an expert on true antiques and educating the consumer to make sure they're getting something authentic. She's a source that antique lovers can trust, and she's proud of that.

How to Become an Antique Expert

Sarah points to several factors that have developed over time that have allowed her to become an expert on antique lockets. These factors can apply to anyone who wants to become an expert within a vintage niche.

  1. Maker's Marks. A lot of lockets have a Maker's Mark so you can tell which company made it. For example, Whiteman and Howell lockets have a little heart with W&HCo. inside. This company closed in 1922 so Sarah knows that all of the lockets she finds with that mark are not a day younger than 1922.
  2. Catalogues. Sarah has collected many reproductions of old catalogues to learn about lockets from different time periods and who was making them.
  3. Photographs. Sarah studies old photographs of women and children wearing lockets. This gives her a sense of which styles and designs were popular during which time periods.
  4. Dates. Some lockets actually have the dates engraved on them!
  5. Time and Focus. Because Sarah spends tons of time around lockets and focuses only on that niche, she's been able to dig deep and get to know her products and field very intimately.

Several years into her business, Sarah says she can look at a locket right away and know what company made it and the approximate year it was made. Pretty impressive!

The Narrow Niche Advantage

Sarah says there are advantages both as a seller and to the buyer because she's niched down.

As a buyer, Sarah helps out her customers by being the go-to, trusted source for antique lockets. She loves to shop on Etsy herself, and she personally hates having to scroll through tons of unrelated items within one shop. Instead, a shop that focuses on one thing sticks in her memory and she comes back to them for that product.
Sarah's selling philosophy is to think like a customer!

As a seller, focusing on one specific niche gives her credibility. Her customers can trust her expertise and experience. In addition, Sarah focuses on making each locket wearable. Many lockets she finds at antique shows need a jump ring, chain, or have a broken hinge. Sarah fixes each locket, makes it lovely and wearable, verifies its age and source, includes instructions on how to care for the locket and clean it, and wraps it beautifully. By focusing, Sarah can provide exceptional customer service.

How to Find Vintage Treasures

Sarah doesn't often go to garage sales or estate sales, because a vintage locket is pretty rare in these settings. Not to mention, as a mom to two very young children, Sarah can't go hunting every weekend.

Sarah goes to a huge antique show in Atlanta. She sifts through bags of jewelry to find a few treasures.
Sarah recommends another antique show in Brimfield, Massachusetts.  If Sarah can go to this huge exhibition and spend a day or two, she can find 20-30 lockets. Sarah plans ahead and finds babysitting for her kids, but then she's got a lot of products to sell when she returns home.

In general, Sarah will attend a big event for one day once a month. She's often able to get all of her lockets for the next month in one day.

The fact that Sarah has a focused niche helps a ton at a huge show. She's not overwhelmed. She knows exactly what she's looking for and she goes to each show with focus and intention.

5 Parts to Pricing

Sarah uses five main criteria to decide on her locket prices.

  1. Condition. This is the biggest issue. The locket needs to close, function, and have all the stones. The better the condition Sarah finds a locket in, the higher the price she can demand.
  2. Rarity. For example, Pansy lockets in the antique world are super rare. The Pansy symbolized loving thoughts in the Victorian Era, so they're very desired by antique fans, but they're also more difficult to come by.
  3.  Age. The older a locket is, the higher the price it commands. Victorian Era lockets cost more because they've lasted 100+ years versus a locket from World War II.
  4. Purchase Price. Clearly Sarah has to factor in how much she paid for the locket.
  5. Additions. Because Sarah ensures that each locket is wearable before she sells it, she has to factor in the cost of chain, jump rings, gift-wrapping, and more.

What is TCO and Why Does it Matter?

During her first year on Etsy, Sarah completely undersold herself. She wanted the average middle-class woman to be able to own her beautiful lockets... but she didn't factor in her own cost of doing business.  Sarah hadn't calculated her Etsy fees, Paypal fees, materials, or any other overhead costs. She would simply double the price of the locket from what she paid for it. Sarah assumed she'd make a small profit, but it turned out that she was only making about $3 a sale! This was way too little for products that she was spending a lot of time on.

When Sarah and her husband got serious about her shop, they created a spreadsheet to calculate her Total Cost of Ownership. This is your total net profits after all of your expenses.  Now Sarah can plug in everything she bought such as the locket, each piece of wrapping wire, Etsy fees, shipping costs, and more, and then she can figure out her true profit.

Sarah's pricing advice for other Etsy Sellers? She reminds them that they're doing something that the average person can't do. They're providing a service, and sometimes that service takes a lot of time. Etsy sellers shouldn't under-sell or undervalue their talents.

Sarah with her business-savvy husband, Praveen.
Sarah with her business-savvy husband, Praveen.

Speedy Photo and Listing Tips

The best thing about selling antiques is that they're one-of-a-kind, but this also poses a unique challenge! Every item has to be photographed and listed separately. How does Sarah manage to spend the time doing this and still make a profit?

Sarah's Listing Tricks

  1. Duplicate an Etsy listing. Sarah copies a listing that's similar. For example, a WWII-era sterling silver locket.
  2. Use a Listing Template. Sarah has a listing description template to make sure she covers all the details for each locket. For example, she always talks about the age, the era, the details and measurements , and maker's marks.
  3. Make Quick Changes. Sarah quickly adds her new pictures, changes the measurements for the actual locket and does a quick check to make sure the tags are still accurate.
    She can do an entire listing in under 10 minutes!

Another trick? Sarah uses the Etsy app on her to make quick changes on the go.

Sarah's Photo Tricks

Photos are one of Sarah's biggest challenges as a vintage seller. She takes photos of exactly that item for every single listing. She wants every customer to know and trust that what they see on the screen is what they're getting when they buy.

With that in mind, Sarah has a formula: 2 front photos, 1 photo on the mannequin, one on the inside of the locket, and one of the back of the locket.

When the light is right, Sarah can quickly snap all five of these shots and move on to the next locket.

Growth + Success: Sarah's Secrets

  1. Think like a customer. If you wouldn't want to buy that item on Etsy then don't sell it. If you're frustrated by the shipping prices, then don't do that to your customers.
  2. Use beautiful packaging to wow each customer and attach more value to your products.
  3. Include all the details you can about your product in the listing description.
  4. Increase prices. Do the math and make sure your business is viable. Are you making a profit or barely getting by?
  5. Set a financial goal and attach value to every sale. Sarah and her husband set really clear goals, and with every sale from her shop, they took some of that money to pay off her student loan. It was so motivating for her to see how her shop growth directly impacted the family and their finances. In December 2014, Sarah paid off her school loans completely!

What to do with Haters

So... haters might be a strong word, and not what Sarah would call them. But what do you do about the people in your life who always have doubts about your endeavors? How do you respond to those people who don't think your shop or blog or business will amount to anything?

Sarah's husband had some wise words to share with her when she first got started:
"Don't take advice from people who have not done it for themselves."

Isn't that so true? There are so many people in the world who are afraid of taking risks. Why would we accept their doubts as reality when they've never done the thing they're cautioning you against doing? Learn from those who have gone before, and Sarah has done just that. She wants to encourage moms that they can do it! If she can do it as a mom to two very little ones, then you can too!

Sarah with her adorable kiddos.
Sarah with her adorable kiddos.

Sarah's C'est La Vie Mom Moment

Sarah's adorable mom moment is just the epitome of working from home. She chooses to roll with the punches, put her kids first, and you know what? It all worked out in the end! Tune in to hear her cute story.

Stay in Touch with Sarah

Sweetheartlane.Etsy.com
AntiqueLocketWorld.com 

Direct download: Episode209520Sarah20Jane20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:46am EDT

Love her so much!  Such a great story.  She started as a little Etsy seller and worked her buns off for several years before turning a profit.  Once she did, she was able to hire under-served women in Detroit  Michigan and make their lives better.  What a beautiful-hearted Mamapreneur.  Inside a Missional Business with Rebecca Smith of Better Life Bags. |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com/94

There are so many things I love about Rebecca's story and business.

  1. She didn't turn a profit until she had worked on her business for 3 years!
  2. Her business is missional. She hires women who have barriers to employment in Detroit, Michigan.
  3. She and her staff produce exceptional products.

Isn't this encouraging, Mamapreneurs?! I think it's so easy to look at those ahead of us and assume their success came overnight. That's hardly ever the case. I love that Rebecca worked really hard for several years before her business became profitable. It encourages me to continue marching forward. Progress over perfection.

I love the fact that Rebecca's business is profitable and doing great, but it's also missional. Don't be afraid to take your own path, Brilliant Business Moms. Do what you're called to. Live with purpose. The rest will follow.

Don't sacrifice quality to make a buck. When you create something great, you can stand behind your products and your prices with confidence.

I'm only scratching the surface with this intro. Let's dig in!

On the Podcast

01:14 - The Accidental Entrepreneur
02:23 - Early Steps for Better Life Bags
3:57 - The Ultimatum
5:23 - The Turning Point
07:46 - Strategies for Growth
10:20 - Pricing your Products
16:22 - Wholesale versus Retail - Must we Do Both?
18:20 - How BLB became a Missional Business
22:08 - On Hiring
23:23 - On Risk
26:19 - #BLBInterns
30:33 - Rules for Unpaid Internships
32:59 - Why Zero Business or Fashion Training still Equals Success
34:43 - How She Does It
37:29 - Instagram Marketing
41:02 - Ladies & Gentlemen, The Future Owner of BLB!

Press Play on the Podcast Player below to hear the full interview

The Accidental Entrepreneur

Rebecca describes herself as an accidental entrepreneur, because she never set out to start a business. It turns out that she absolutely loves it and has a knack for it too!

Rebecca's bag journey, (as she calls it!) started when she and her husband moved from Savannah, Georgia to Detroit, Michigan 5 years ago. It was an intentional move because they wanted to live and serve in a diverse community filled with needs. Rebecca had just opened up her Etsy shop at the time and had just one child.
Now they have 3 children and a much bigger business to run!

Early Steps for Better Life Bags

Rebecca used two main strategies early on to grow her business.

  1. She worked for free. It was helpful that Rebecca's family wasn't counting on her income to support them each month. She was able to work for free as she figured out the basics of marketing, sales, and pricing her products.
  2. She used social media. Rebecca had already been blogging, so it made sense for her to start a blog for Better Life Bags. She was also quite into social media, so again, it was a natural transition to start talking about her products. Rebecca relied on her connections and working hard at social media early on.

The Ultimatum

3 years into the business, Rebecca was still working for free. She didn't even realize it at the time, but one day, she and her husband sat down at Panera to talk. The business was starting to grow to the point where it encroached on family life a good bit. So he said, "I've done the math. Do you realize you're only making about $2.25 an hour?"

Rebecca 's response was, "I don't care! I love it and I'm having so much fun!"

Her husband said that was ok at first that it didn't earn money and was just a hobby, but the business had grown to the point where it took up a lot of Rebecca's time. Rebecca had to decide if she'd shut it down, force it to be small, or she could choose a third option and take 6 months to figure out how to give herself a paycheck.

The Turning Point

At this point, Rebecca dove head-first into using social media to grow the business. She intentionally sought out bloggers who had large followings that comprised her target customers. So for example, fashion blogs, style blogs, and mommy blogs were a great fit. However, based on her bag prices, she knew it wasn't a good idea to target frugal living or couponing blogs.

Rebecca sent bloggers free product in exchange for a review. Her goal was to land about one new account per week, so overall she'd send out about 3-5 bags per month to bloggers for review. She wanted each review to feel organic and for the feature to be something that fit both brands really well.

Her strategy worked! In 6 months she was not only able to pay herself well but also hire her first employee!
Rebecca says that she made many of her best online friends in those early years of partnering with bloggers. They still help her out today. Their relationships aren't those of using each other, but instead they're genuinely friends who love to help each other out.

Strategies for Growth

Rebecca points to 3 main changes that led to a "nuclear bomb explosion of orders" in her business, as she says!

  1.  Increased Product Quality. Rebecca wants to make sure that her products are exceptional. Even though she runs a missional business, she doesn't ever want it to feel like a charity. She doesn't want people to buy her bags just to be nice or because it's for a good cause. She wants every customer to be surprised and impressed with the quality of their bag.
  2. Made Products More Unique with Leather. One of Rebecca's original blogging partners actually suggested that she start using leather in her bags. Up until that time they were all made with fabric - even though they were custom for each customer. The leather really does set Rebecca's bags apart and increase the quality and durability of the bag.
  3. Partnered with More Bloggers. As we discussed above, Rebecca became much more intentional and focused on partnering with the right bloggers to have people constantly talking about and sharing her products.
The Finley Bag from Better Life Bags.  Isn't it adorable?!
The Finley Bag from Better Life Bags. Isn't it beautiful?!

Pricing your Products

Early on, Rebecca just looked around at prices for similar products on Etsy and pulled a number out of a hat. Her early fabric bags were $45.

When the business got busier, and she realized she wasn't taking home a paycheck, she had to take a closer look at her prices.

When she first added up all of the materials that went into each bag it was shocking to her! At that point, Rebecca did a lot of research online on how to price products.

- The prevailing formula on pricing is to add up all the materials. (This is everything that walks out the door with your products, such as fabrics, thread, packaging supplies, business cards, and more.)
- Then add your labor with your hourly wage + the time to make and ship the bag.

- Then times that total by 2 and you'll have your wholesale price.

- Times that by 2 again and you'll get your retail price.

When Rebecca priced her bags that way they were coming in at $350 to $450!!
She was so discouraged by those numbers because she knew she'd never buy a bag that expensive, and she didn't want her bags to be out of reach for most Americans.

With her current pricing formula, her most expensive bag starts at $225 but her products go all the way down to $18. The bags are still pricey, but it's something that's in reach that you can save up for. They have many customers who save for several months to purchase a bag.

Here's Rebecca's current pricing formula:
- Rebecca calculates all of her materials and labor and then times that number by 1.45

- That price is the bare minimum for pricing her products.

- In their case for the few wholesale accounts they have - that's the price they charge the boutiques.

- They never go more than times 2 from that point, but they try to get the price very close to times 2.

- Within that times 2 price is her manager's salaries, her office space, her internet, and her taxes at the end of the year - along with a ton of other overhead expenses.

Rebecca believes in pricing your products well so that people can get paid well and you can do really good things with the money that's coming in.

Rebecca's pricing for her bags works because they don't push their wholesale price. They cut out the middle-man in the form of many boutiques selling their products as well as the manufacturing middle-man since they make all their bags locally in Detroit.

Rebecca says it's a mixture of science and math and also some experimentation. "Don't be afraid to change your prices," she says.

Wholesale versus Retail - Must we Do Both?

Rebecca thinks that it's absolutely ok to not do wholesale.

There's a lot of pressure for shop owners to pursue wholesale. Maybe they hear that everyone else is doing it, or it's the next step to grow their business. Boutiques may be starting to approach them to carry their products.
But Rebecca can't think of one company that does both really well. Most companies have one that they focus on and put 80% of their efforts into.

Pick which avenue you prefer doing. Do you enjoy marketing to the customer and dealing with them directly? Or maybe you don't want to market your products to the general public, so you'd rather just make really great stuff and approach boutiques and have them do the selling for you.

It's up to you, but focus on one method of selling and do it really well.

How BLB became a Missional Business

In her third year of business, Rebecca was running out of time to make all of her bags. She had three choices: Shut everything down, find a factory in China to manufacture the bags, or find women locally to make them.
Rebecca remembered a woman they had met the first week they moved to Detroit. She was a recent immigrant from Yemen. Her husband worked at a gas station and they had 4 kids. The children all slept on mattresses on the floor and they were barely getting by.But this woman knew how to sew.

Rebecca called her up and they worked together. At first she just did the insides of the bags. She did that so well that she started doing the outsides too. Every week Rebecca would drop off new materials and the woman would give her the completed bags.

6 months into her job, the woman brought Rebecca upstairs to show her something - she was able to buy bunk beds for her children with the money she made from sewing bags. At that moment, Rebecca realized what the power of this business could do for women in her community. They started intentionally hiring after that.
They always had a better life aspect to the company. They used to give 10% of every sale in microloans through Kiva. A picture of the person that the microloan helped would go out with each bag. Now the women's names are written on a card and it says, "Your bag was made by.... " The card tells their story and how they're able to better their lives through working at BLB.

On Hiring

There are now 16 employees in the Better Life Bags workshop. Most of their hires have been through networking. The first woman they hired knew other women, and Rebecca knew women in their neighborhood who then referred more people.

Rebecca even found one of her employees on the street. She was begging for money for bus fare so that she could donate plasma and get paid. She had four children to care for. Rebecca said, "Why don't you come down to our shop and I'll teach you how to cut leather and I'll pay you by the hour for the day." 18 months later this woman is full-time in their office doing far more than cutting leather scraps!

"Everyone has come to us who should be here. They've been brought to us by the Lord," says Rebecca.

On Risk

Sarah had a great follow-up question for Rebecca. While her heart says "YAY!" her mind says, "oh my gosh, that's so risky!" She wondered if Rebecca felt that it was risky to hire some of the women she's hired.
Rebecca had a great answer!

  1. Had you told her six years ago that she'd be hiring women from Detroit, Michigan who had barriers to employment, she would have run as fast as she could in the other direction. But it happened so slowly and gradually that she almost didn't know what she was getting into until things were already pretty well established. Now she looks back in amazement.
  2. Rebecca wants to be 100% business-minded and 100% mission-minded. She wants to make good business decisions, but she wants to do it in a way that honors and helps people.

One of the ways they keep both in mind is by paying per piece instead of paying hourly. She doesn't have to micromanage her employees. The wage is based on $18/hour, and it's based on how long it takes Rebecca to make a bag at a focused pace. One of their seamstresses makes about $25/hour now because she's so skilled at making her bags and she's motivated to do well.
Sounds like a win-win to me!

Better Life Bags Limited Edition Pineapple Print - so cute!  Loved this interview about the business too.
How cute is this pineapple print and photo? No wonder Better Life Bags kills it on Instagram!

#BLBInterns

The past two summers, BLB has had the same single intern. It was a pretty safe choice for them because this woman was connected to people in the community and going to fashion school in Michigan.

This year they decided to go all out for their internship program. They did a shout-out on Instagram saying they were hiring for unpaid internships. The interns would learn about small business, social media marketing, product development. They accepted applications and resumes, set a deadline, and then hired three interns.

How did they decide on the interns?

Rebecca and her three leadership staff all looked over each application.

One great weed-out question was "what are you hoping to learn this summer?" They wanted to make sure what the interns understood what they'd be learning and that it would be a great fit for everyone.

Another weed-out method was to stalking the candidate's social media channels. They wanted women who were mission-minded and coming to serve, love on their staff, and they wanted the interns to mesh and gel. And BLB did not want partiers.  They looked at Instagram feeds and they narrowed the applicants in half just based on what their feed presented about themselves. It was eye-opening to Rebecca as an employer. What you put out into the world on social media truly matters.

BLB really kicked things up a notch by renting the interns an Airbnb place in the city. It's a great little place and it's just down the street from Rebecca. (What a cool internship!)

The interns are taking over BLB social media on the weekends and sharing "life as an intern" posts. They're using the hashtag #blbinterns.

Rules for Unpaid Internships

The biggest rule in hiring unpaid interns is that they can't be doing anything that someone should be paid for. So for example, Rebecca couldn't hire free interns to make products for her or run her social media accounts.

The internship is really more about benefitting the interns and giving them a great learning experience. On the other hand, Rebecca finds it beneficial because she may have great people to hire in the future. She gets to see what they're like at work and what their skills are as they try their hand at different things.

Why Zero Business or Fashion Training still Equals Success

Rebecca has no formal business training, but she does think her previous degrees and work experiences have helped her a lot. When she first declared a major in college she was fashion merchandising. She had done window displays in high school and really enjoyed it. But 6 months into that major she decided that she really wanted to have a family and fashion merch involves a lot of weekends, nights, and holidays.

Rebecca switched to social work next but soon realized that it was just a really difficult field. Finally she switched to elementary education and got her degree in that. She taught for 3 years.

Now Rebecca has a business that combines fashion, social work, and lots of teaching!

So she has no formal business training or design experience - just a love and a passion for it....and a willingness to read every Google article and listen to every podcast!

How She Does It

Rebecca says that she has so much help. She doesn't do it all. She has an amazing operations manager who essentially runs the company. One of the best decisions she ever made was to stop working in the business and start working on the business. With an operations manager, Rebecca has the time to just be a mom when she's at home. She doesn't have to print off orders, ship bags, or make sure the seamstresses have everything they need.
When Rebecca is at work, she has an awesome nanny who has the home front covered. She plays with her kids and does creative things with them. Rebecca works three full days per week and she's home the other two plus the weekends.

Rebecca's husband is an EMT, so his schedule always changes. When he's off, Rebecca tries to be off as well, so the three days that she's in the workshop changes each week. Rebecca says, "I feel really blessed that I get to do this for my job, and... it doesn't feel like work to me, which is the best thing ever."

Now, she says, if she could just stop checking her email and Instagram when she's not in the office...

Rebecca Smith with her adorable family.
Rebecca Smith with her adorable family.

Instagram Marketing

Better Life Bags does a great job on Instagram. One of the first important decisions they made in regards to the madness of social media was that they chose one platform to do well. They ignored their Twitter account, and Facebook is very second to Instagram.

Here's why BLB focuses on Instagram: When Rebecca was on her personal Instagram account scrolling each day, she suddenly found herself at the computer ready to order a baby wrap that she saw on Instagram. And she thought, "woah, how did I get here?"

So she studied what that company did to get her to be a buying customer:

  • They posted 3-5 times a day, so they were always coming across her feed.
  • They posted beautiful pictures.
  • They told their story well.

Better Life Bags tried to emulate that:

  • They post 3-4 times per day - typically morning, late-morning, afternoon and night.
  • They have several categories of things they post: their bags, photos from their customers, something that has to do with their mission such as quotes that relate to their mission, and behind the scenes photos of their workshop.

If you're looking to grow your Instagram following and sales, Hilary Rushford has an Instagram class that Rebecca highly recommends. (Beth Anne does too!) Hilary will teach you how to ask important questions about the overall aesthetic of your Instagram feed. What do those 9 photos look like together? Do they look cohesive? Do they look messy? What will make someone push "follow" when they run across your feed?

Note - the link above is NOT an affiliate link.  We just think the class is great and we're happy to talk about it.  I'm not sure when it opens again, but you can sign up so you'll know about her next webinar.

Ladies & Gentlemen, The Future Owner of BLB!

Rebecca's 4 year-old daughter cracked us up! Ladies and Gentlemen.... meet the future owner of BLB!

Stay in Touch with Rebecca

BetterLifeBags.com
Instagram:  
@betterlifebags 
@rebeccasmithonline 

Direct download: Episode209420Rebecca20Smith20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:23am EDT

Finally, I feel like I know what to do with an auto-responder sequence!  |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com

We know (in theory!) that email can be a great way to grow our business. But, in practice, it feels overwhelming, and we're fresh out of ideas for doing it well! Kirsten Thompson of the blog Sweet Tea and Saving Grace is going to take us under her wing and give us a renewed excitement for growing and connecting via email.

On the Podcast

00:59 - From Overwhelmed Blogger to In-Charge Email Marketer
02:29 - What Re-Branding did for Kirsten's Business
03:36 - Monetizing in a Way that Works for Her
06:14 - A Full-Time Job + Blogging - How She Does It
10:17 - How to Connect with Your Readers in a Personal Way
13:50 - The Law & Email Newsletters - What You Need to Know
17:59 - Opt-In Form Ideas and Debate
25:17 - How to Craft a Great Opt-In Offer
29:21 - Auto-responder Sequence Ideas
32:59 - Target, a Sassy 3 year-old, and Stranger Danger!

Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to Hear Kirsten's Best Email Marketing Advice

From Overwhelmed Blogger to In-Charge Email Marketer

Kirsten has been blogging almost 5 years and started under the name, One Tough Mother. For many years, she tried to keep up with big bloggers and do everything they were doing to grow. Finally, she got burned out. In January of 2014 Kirsten decided to step away from blogging for 6 months. She came back in May 2014 with a completely different focus and re-branded to Sweet Tea and Saving Grace.

Kirsten added the business aspect of blogging to her site and offered herself up as a Virtual Assistant to other bloggers in the Fall of 2014. All of her clients were asking her to design their email newsletters for them. They knew email marketing was important, but they didn't know where to start, so Kirsten quickly became the "go-to" person for email marketing.

What Re-Branding did for Kirsten's Business

Fortunately, Kirsten retained a lot of her readership through her site's re-branding. She still does craft and DIY projects, but she quit focusing on the numbers and analytics. Instead Kirsten focuses on what her goals are and what she needs to do to achieve her version of success. She no longer gets overwhelmed by watching what other bloggers are doing.

While Kirsten's readers just saw a new site and look for her brand, the real change was what happened behind the scenes with her focus and mentality.

Monetizing in a Way that Works for Her

When Kirsten returned to blogging last May, her focus really shifted. Her biggest focus now is engagement with her readers. She loves the community that blogging brings. Her number one goal is to build deeper relationships with her readers and get to know them better.

Kirsten wanted to monetize her blog but she didn't want to do it in a way that would be selling out. She didn't want sponsored post to be her number 1 income generator for the blog. That's where being a VA (Virtual Assistant) came in. She's learned so much in several years of blogging so she can help those bloggers who are too busy to do everything or don't know how to do everything.

Previously, Kirsten's editorial calendar was crazy full but it wasn't bringing her joy. She was doing tons of sponsored posts and focusing on traffic and pageviews. Now, she's monetized her site in a way that works for her and allows her to focus on relationships and helping others.

A Full-Time Job + Blogging - How She Does It

Kirsten shared several methods for ensuring that she strikes a balance in her life.

  1. Keep in mind that if you put something new onto your plate, you might have to take something else off.
  2. Learn to say no. Kirsten has very few VA clients because she'll readily tell people no in order to keep her work manageable.
  3. Find blogging shortcuts. Kirsten does a round-up post each Friday which saves her from writing a full blog post, taking photos, editing them, and more. She finds ways to still put out great content without spending hours upon hours doing it.
  4. Learn how to step away from your to-do list. Kirsten works when she can, and when she's working, she focuses and works hard. But when it's time to take a break, Kirsten has learned that it's ok to leave things undone.
  5. Drop everything for the right priorities. For Kirsten, her family comes first. She dropped everything and went on a fishing trip with her husband last week even though her to-do list was miles long. (Surprise - everything was fine! Nothing fell apart just because she took a break and put her family first.)
  6. Plan ahead but don't let your schedule control you. "It's great to have an editorial calendar but you can't live and die by that editorial calendar."

"I think Bloggers put so much pressure on themselves that somebody, somewhere in the inifinte internet is gonna look down on them because they don't get the post up on Monday and it goes up on Tuesday instead." (Isn't that the truth?!)

Kirsten with her hubby
Kirsten with her hubby

How to Connect with Your Readers in a Personal Way

Email is the best way to connect with your readers and build your business. When you first start blogging, social media is really pushed as where you need to be. But you don't have any real control over who sees what you're putting out there.

When you put your information in a newsletter, that's a personal thing. That reader is giving you space in their inbox and they want what you're sending. They've invested time in you.

Don't say "email marketing is on my list of things to do." Put it at the top. Put a form on your site to collect email addresses from day 1 of blogging or owning a business.

Setting up your email list isn't hard to do, and MailChimp is free until 2,000 subscribers or up to 10,000 emails per month.

The Law & Email Newsletters - What You Need to Know

  1. Canadian Anti-Spam Laws. These new regulations were pushed in bloggers' faces about 6 months ago. The law means that you can't spam anybody who gets your emails in Canada, but to be on the safe side, you just shouldn't spam anyone.
    To be compliant, you need to have written documentation that every subscriber wants to be on your list. That's where a sign-up form comes in. A sign-up form is the subscriber giving you consent to send them emails. You can't just take every email address you know of and start sending them emails each week.
    But the good news is that the terms of use for Mailchimp or many other email service providers are way more strict than the CAN-SPAM laws, so if you comply with your service provider then you're fine.
  2. You must include a real mailing address in your email footer. You can't simply say, "Becky Smith Atlanta, GA." there are fines involved if you get caught not listing your address. If you don't want to put your home address, you can get a PO box for fairly cheap
  3. You must disclose affiliate links that are used in email. This is the same regulation that applies to affiliate links in blog posts. You need to let the reader know that they're there.
  4. You may not use Amazon affiliate links in email. Amazon has set their own Terms of Use that prohibits this. So if you wrote a blog post that includes Amazon affiliate links, you need to remove the link from your email or truncate your post so that it's not included in your email.

Opt-In Form Ideas and Debate

Kirsten recommends several places to put your opt-in form, and one recommendation is commonly debated in the blogging community.

  1. Put your sign-up form everywhere. Wherever a new reader is on your blog, they need to have an option to sign up wherever they may be. So put a (1) form in your sidebar, a (2) form at the bottom of each post, a (3) form in your header or on your static homepage, and (4) put a form on your contact or about page.
  2. Use a pop-up opt-in form. (Even Sarah and I have different thoughts and opinions on this one. We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!) Kirsten recommends Popup Ally, and they have a free version. Kirsten calls it a polite pop-up, because you can change the font color, add your logo, and change the font. Pop-up Ally tracks the IP addresses for the people who visit your blog, so you can set it so that it won't show up for another 14 days, for example, if you close out the box. You can also set up 2 pop-ups, so if you have a landing page where you want to provide a different opt-in, you easily can.

Are pop-ups really worth it? Sarah has mixed feelings about using them and potentially irritating readers.
Kirsten shared that she's used Popup Ally for 8 months, and her list has doubled. She can't contribute her growth solely to the tool but her list has been growing faster since she's had it, and her clients say the same thing. The pop-up is easy to ignore if you want to ignore it.

If you have mixed feeings about pop-ups, Kirsten says at the very least, try it for 30 days and see what happens.

How to Craft a Great Opt-In Offer

There are several things to consider to help you determine the best opt-in offer for your readers or customers.

  1. Your opt-in offer must be something of value that your subscribers will get for free.
  2. The Freemium you provide could come in many possible formats. Free content, e-books, resources, printables, subscriber-only deals, exclusive access to a private group or forum, a video course, a daily challenge, among other formats.
  3. Ask yourself these questions: Who is your target audience? What are their struggles, and how can you provide a solution?
    For example, if your audience is moms of toddlers, maybe a printable list of snack and lunch ideas for toddlers would be perfect. However, if your target audience is moms growing a business, your opt-in should NOT be lunch ideas for toddlers!
  4. Consider your resources. How much time do you have to craft your offer? Some bloggers have very active Facebook groups, which become their offer. If you don't have time to invest in a private Facebook group, then don't offer that. If you only have 15 minutes to put together an opt-in, then make a printable, or take an awesome blog post that's done really well turn it into a worksheet.
  5. Consider your archives. If you have new readers, your old content is still new to them. Look at your most popular posts and create related content for that.
  6. Your opt-in doesn't have to be anything tangible. You could offer a Twitterchat or Instagram challenge, for example. Your opt-in could be connecting and involving your readers with each other.

Kirsten has a great resource with 101 Newsletter Content and Opt-In Offer ideas available to hew email subscribers. You can sign up here to snag your copy.

Auto-responder Sequence Ideas

There's not a wrong way to set up an auto-responder sequence, it just depends on your goals. Overall, though, they can be a great way to build trust and authority. Here are two ideas to get your creative juices flowing!

  1. Use an auto-responder to introduce new readers to old content. Abby of JustaGirlandHerBlog.com does this really well. She starts with a welcome email that introduces readers to her and how her blog got started. Then, they get an email once a week for 6 weeks that just highlights different categories from her archives. Readers get to know both her and her great content!
  2. Create a mini e-course. If you're a home decor blogger and you have all sorts of great home decorating tips from your blog posts, you can combine your best tips and create a 6-week e-course. All you're doing is re-packaging content that you've already created, but your new readers and subscribers will find it incredibly helpful!
  3. If you have a product for sale, use your auto-responder sequence to slowly lead your subscribers towards a product purchase related to the content they're receiving. They've just learned from you, and they're more apt to buy from you because they're confident you know what you're talking about.

Target, a Sassy 3 year-old, and Stranger Danger!

Kirsten's sassy daughter Marley did something pretty outlandish (and hilarious looking back now!) You'll have to tune in to hear the story! Let's just say, your child's tantrum in the store will pale in comparison to this episode....

Kirsten with her daughter
Kirsten with her daughter

Stay in Touch with Kirsten

SweetTeaandSavingGraceBlog.com 

Direct download: Episode209320Kirsten20Thompson_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:17am EDT

Love these two ladies!  They're brilliant, hard-working, and they with their spouses have built a crazy-big business doing e-book bundle sales.  A must-listen with some great business advice.  |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com

We've said it before, and we'll probably be saying it until the end of time - partnering with other brilliant people is a GREAT idea when it comes to growing your business. The talents, resources, and influence two or more people can bring to the table can add up to great big results. That's exactly what happened for Stephanie Langford and Erin Odom when they partnered together to form Ultimate-Bundles.com

Tune in to hear how their partnership formed, how they leveraged their unique skills, how they market their ebook bundles, and some ideas on tracking sales.

On the Podcast

01:18 - Stephanie & Erin's Blogging Journey
05:33 - Stephanie's First E-book Bundle
08:23 - Recruiting Authors
09:39 - The Pros and Cons of Adding Affiliates
11:08 - Erin Joins the Team
14:22 - How to Work out an Agreement for a Business Venture
18:31 - How to Find Great Help
23:17 - Tips on Recruiting Authors
25:37 - How to Decide which Books to Include
28:07 - Why Ultimate-Bundles Can't Include Every Book
30:54 - Marketing Strategies for Affiliates and Authors
35:08 - How to Track Sales
38:24 - Funny mom moments

Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to Hear the Full Story

Stephanie & Erin's Blogging Journey

8 years ago, Stephanie Langford started the KeeperoftheHome.org with a toddler and a baby at home. For a few years the blog was just a hobby. Then her husband wanted to start a music school, so the family went all-out as entrepreneurs. Stephanie worked hard to make the blog more professional and earn an income from it.
Stephanie and her husband Ryan now have 5 kids, from age 10 down to a newborn (congratulations, Stephanie!), and in addition to running Ultimate Bundles together and Stephanie having her blog, they also run EntreFamily.com where they chat and podcast about work and life as an entrepreneurial family.

Erin Odom started TheHumbledHomemaker.com about 4.5 years ago. Erin has been a writer for a long time, and she didn't have a clue about the world of blogs. A friend told her that she should read mom blogs and "oh by the way you should start your own blog and turn it into a business that you can run from home." Once Erin had her second child she started reading blogs while she was up late at night nursing. At the time Erin was freelancing for several local newspapers for work, but she just gave blogging a try. She didn't know if she could turn it into a business, but she secretly hoped that she could!

For her first year of blogging, Erin focused on building a community, creating good content, and growing her readership. Three years ago she started to think about monetizing her blog.

Erin credits Stephanie with helping her to grow her blog. KeeperoftheHome.org was one of the first blogs Erin read, and she contacted Stephanie to see if she was interested in a guest post. Stephanie accepted her guest post and asked if she'd like to be a contributing writer for her site. Ultimately, Erin became the editor for Stephanie's site, and they later formed Ultimate Bundles together.

Stephanie's First E-book Bundle

Stephanie admits that she wasn't the first person to create an e-book bundle. Mandi from Life Your Way started a Simplify Your Family Life Bundle. Stephanie was part of a couple of those as an author of some e-books, but nobody was doing a bundle for the healthy living niche.

Stephanie thought, "what if someone could pull together amazing healthy resources like tutorials for creating your own skin care products, cleaning products, and more." Stephanie and her VA pulled that first bundle together.

A few weeks before the bundle Stephanie's husband Ryan got on board and wanted to make it really big. He told her that her financial goals were too small! He brought on some sponsors for the bundle and partners who would offer courses and product discounts. They pulled an all-nighter the night before they launched their first bundle and ran into all sorts of glitches and problems, but they got it off the ground, and it was a success!

The authors and contributors to the Healthy Living Bundle were so excited that they were making sales. The Langfords were just thrilled to offer something that was an amazing value at a great price, and at the same time they got to support great bloggers.

Stephanie says she never could have predicted what would come of that first bundle sale in the Fall of 2012. But in 2.5 years, Ultimate Bundles has grown into a very successful company!

Stephanie Langford with her husband Ryan and their kids (sans their newest addition!)
Stephanie Langford with her husband Ryan and their kids (sans their newest addition!)

Recruiting Authors

We assumed that for the very first bundle, it may have been tricky to recruit enough authors and convey the benefits of being part of the sale. Stephanie says there were a lot of back and forth emails. The authors had a lot of questions because they'd never been in an e-book bundle before. It was more complicated in the beginning, but thankfully Stephanie had been in the healthy living niche for a long time, so she already had many great blogging relationships. They had already partnered together on blog carnivals or seasonal events in the past. "Those relationships were really the key to getting something bigger going," says Stephanie.

The Pros and Cons of Adding Affiliates

Stephanie says that she was nervous about bringing affiliates on board for her first bundle sale. She wanted to make sure the ebook authors benefitted the most from the sale, and she didn't want their contribution to a bundle to be watered down by other people selling it. Ultimately, they did choose to add affiliates for the first bundle sale, and all their bundles sales thereafter.

They came up with a solution to really honor each author's contribution. Authors received a bonus so that instead of the organizers (Ryan and Stephanie) taking the extra profit that would have come from the affiliates they instead gave it to the authors who participated in the bundle and gave it to them.

This was a win-win because they were able to spread the bundle further, get the authors names and blogs out there into the hands of more readers but still reward the authors in a big way for participating.

Erin Joins the Team

Erin participated as an author in Stephanie's first healthy living bundle. Erin got the idea for a homemaking bundle not too long after. She was sitting in a MOPS meeting and the speaker was talking about all the roles homemakers play. We're the cooks, cleaners, organizers, oftentimes the educators, and more. Erin sat there thinking, "no wonder I'm overwhelmed!" At the time, she had a 4 year old, 2 year old, and a newborn, and she thought, "what can I do to help other homemakers like me?"

She wanted to assemble a group of resources that would help and equip homemakers to fulfill their role even better. She thought about doing a bundle sale similar to Stephanie's, but she didn't want to take her idea, and she didn't want to do it alone because she's not technologically inclined.

On the other hand, Erin knew she had a lot of relationships with other bloggers that she could bring to the table. She approached Stephanie, and Stephanie chatted with her husband Ryan about it. They said yes!

How to Work out an Agreement for a Business Venture

The Langfords and Odoms didn't go to a lawyer and have an official contract written up, but they did decide on their particular roles and write everything down and agree upon it.

Stephanie says that it came down to a lot of conversations about who had strengths in which areas and what made the most sense. They determined how to divide things up so that everyone was equally giving, everyone was equally using their gifts, and everyone was equally benefitting from the arrangement.

They had hours and hours of Skype calls trying to figure everything out, getting to know each other better and determining their strengths and weaknesses .

Running the very first bundle was a lot of work and truly exhausting. There was only so much Stephanie could do on her own to develop the bundle and make it an event that she was proud to put on. But with 3 people - Erin, Ryan, and Stephanie - they were able to accomplish much more. Even early on, both Stephanie and Erin had VA's helping them. Now they've expanded the team even more to include someone doing customer service and someone who does the back-end technical stuff. They've also hired graphic designers and copywriters.

"That's really the only way that any business can continue to grow and develop successfully is by realizing that you can't do it all on your own and bringing on other people who have strengths that are different than yours," Stephanie says.

How to Find Great Help

While some people recommend Elance or Odesk to find outside help, Stephanie and Erin both recommend reaching out to your networks. They've both been involved in so many different blogging groups that it's been easy to find most of their team members this way. Many of their team members have been bundle authors, one of their main staff on Ultimate Bundles right now is Mandi Ehman who already had experience running her own bundle sale!

This isn't to say that there haven't been struggles when it comes to hiring. They've had to hire outside of their network on occasion, and in these cases it seems to be less predictable on how the relationship will work out. They've gone through a lot of copywriters over the last few years. Sometimes it does take trial and error before you find the right staff, but working with the connections you already have, when possible, does make it easier.

The Most Popular Bundle

We were curious about which bundle, between Healthy Living, Homemaking, and DIY has been the most popular.

Stephanie says that the Healthy Living Bundle is the one where they've had their best sale ever, but it's still hard to say since the DIY bundle is brand new and they have more established relationships with authors in the healthy living and homemaking niches.

Keep your eyes and ears open, because Ultimate Bundles just completed their Digital Photography Bundle, and they have a Business Survival Bundle coming this Fall :)

Tips on Recruiting Authors

Erin is the relationship-building Queen, and since she's recruited the authors for all but the very last bundle, we had to get the inside scoop on how to approach them and build great relationships.

  1. Don't be scared about approaching anyone. Erin spent hours and hours trying to figure out who's who in each niche and interacting with bloggers that a few years ago, she may have been afraid to approach. Tell yourself, "I'm going to approach them and the worst they can do is say no."
  2. Be authentic. Erin is approaching authors and bloggers with something that she wholeheartedly and enthusiastically believes in, so that makes her job easy.
  3. Let them know that it's a quadruple win. It's a win for them as the organizers, a huge win for the authors who make a good income, a win for their affiliates, and a win for their customers.

Thankfully, Erin rarely gets told no, but one of the hardest parts of her jobs is turning people away. During the last sale she had to turn more than 100 people away. The more they grow the more strict they have to be on the quality of the e-books and products included. They want to put together the best product possible, so that means they can't include everyone.

Erin Odom with her husband and their three girls.
Erin Odom with her husband and their three girls.

How to Decide which Books to Include

Mandi Ehman is now the point person for book selection, but for the past several years Erin has done all the vetting for homemaking and healthy living. She has VA's that help her to go through the books but Erin is the ultimate decision maker. Often if they're down to a few choices and Stephanie and Erin will get on Skype to look over the books together and make the final cuts.

Erin says It's almost like moving around pieces on a chess board. They look at the overall bundle and the different categories. If there are too many books in one category, they may have to pass on some. They also look at the platform size of the blogger contributing although that's not the only factor.

We were curious about whether or not Erin enjoyed reading all the submissions she receives.

She said it's fun. She always tries to keep the customer in mind. She and Stephanie are their ideal customer so they always consider what they would like. Erin also loves building relationships with authors.

Why Ultimate-Bundles Can't Include Every Book

Ultimate-Bundles has really expanded its offerings with each bundle sale. The first-ever healthy living bundle only had 33 books. That was more common at that time. When Erin came on board for the Homemaking bundle, her ENFP personality shone through, and she had so many books for Stephanie and Ryan to consider. They were getting overwhelmed with close to 100 books for the bundle. This is when the brand became Ultimate Bundles, and they try to beat themselves every time.

At the same time, they knew there would be a point where there would be overwhelm: Overwhelm for the authors promoting the sale and overwhelm for the readers buying the bundle. What they wanted to do was create an amazing resource library - an essential library for whatever the given topic was. They also want to build a relationship with the authors and be able to support them well through the sale, and that would be impossible if Ultimate Bundles included every single book.

Marketing Strategies for Affiliates and Authors

Stephanie and Erin shared a lot of great tips on making sales.

  1. Set tangible, realistic goals but push yourself a little bit.
  2. Have a plan and a strategy, and write down exactly how you're going to accomplish your goal.
  3. Email is really important. Those are people who like you, want to hear from you, and want to know what you're recommending.
  4. Write great content. Present the bundle sale well using awesome, evergreen, shareable posts.
  5. Share those great posts on social media. Use social media not so much as a promotional tool, but more as a way to drive traffic back to your site.
  6. On your site, mention the bundle below every blog post and within your most popular posts.
  7. Have an authentic voice.
  8. Work really hard and give it your all.
  9. Track your links so you can figure out what works best.

Overall, Stephanie and Erin know that their email lists are where they make the most sales, so they focus their efforts there.

How to Track Sales

At Ultimate Bundles, they use Infusionsoft for advanced link tracking. Even their affiliates can use a different link on their blog posts versus email versus social media. Then you can really see where your sales are coming from.
Another way to track links is via UTM tracking in Google Analytics. (We haven't tried this yet, so we can't speak to how easy or difficult it is. We just know that it's there!)

If you're not equipped to track a click all the way through to a sale, you can use bit.ly or pretty links to determine where you are getting the most clicks, and this should be a pretty good indicator of sales. Just use a different link for each place where you mention the product or sale that you're promoting.

Funny Mom Moments

Both Erin and Stephanie's daughters had some funny things to say! You'll have to tune in to hear their stories :)

Stay in Touch with Erin and Stephanie

Stephanie KeeperoftheHome.org
EntreFamily.com
Ultimate-Bundles.org
Insta: @entrestephanie

Erin:  TheHumbledHomemaker.com
Instagram @erinbodom

Love these two ladies!  They're brilliant, hard-working, and they with their spouses have built a crazy-big business doing e-book bundle sales.  A must-listen with some great business advice.  |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com

We've said it before, and we'll probably be saying it until the end of time - partnering with other brilliant people is a GREAT idea when it comes to growing your business. The talents, resources, and influence two or more people can bring to the table can add up to great big results. That's exactly what happened for Stephanie Langford and Erin Odom when they partnered together to form Ultimate-Bundles.com

Tune in to hear how their partnership formed, how they leveraged their unique skills, how they market their ebook bundles, and some ideas on tracking sales.

On the Podcast

01:18 - Stephanie & Erin's Blogging Journey
05:33 - Stephanie's First E-book Bundle
08:23 - Recruiting Authors
09:39 - The Pros and Cons of Adding Affiliates
11:08 - Erin Joins the Team
14:22 - How to Work out an Agreement for a Business Venture
18:31 - How to Find Great Help
23:17 - Tips on Recruiting Authors
25:37 - How to Decide which Books to Include
28:07 - Why Ultimate-Bundles Can't Include Every Book
30:54 - Marketing Strategies for Affiliates and Authors
35:08 - How to Track Sales
38:24 - Funny mom moments

Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to Hear the Full Story

Stephanie & Erin's Blogging Journey

8 years ago, Stephanie Langford started the KeeperoftheHome.org with a toddler and a baby at home. For a few years the blog was just a hobby. Then her husband wanted to start a music school, so the family went all-out as entrepreneurs. Stephanie worked hard to make the blog more professional and earn an income from it.
Stephanie and her husband Ryan now have 5 kids, from age 10 down to a newborn (congratulations, Stephanie!), and in addition to running Ultimate Bundles together and Stephanie having her blog, they also run EntreFamily.com where they chat and podcast about work and life as an entrepreneurial family.

Erin Odom started TheHumbledHomemaker.com about 4.5 years ago. Erin has been a writer for a long time, and she didn't have a clue about the world of blogs. A friend told her that she should read mom blogs and "oh by the way you should start your own blog and turn it into a business that you can run from home." Once Erin had her second child she started reading blogs while she was up late at night nursing. At the time Erin was freelancing for several local newspapers for work, but she just gave blogging a try. She didn't know if she could turn it into a business, but she secretly hoped that she could!

For her first year of blogging, Erin focused on building a community, creating good content, and growing her readership. Three years ago she started to think about monetizing her blog.

Erin credits Stephanie with helping her to grow her blog. KeeperoftheHome.org was one of the first blogs Erin read, and she contacted Stephanie to see if she was interested in a guest post. Stephanie accepted her guest post and asked if she'd like to be a contributing writer for her site. Ultimately, Erin became the editor for Stephanie's site, and they later formed Ultimate Bundles together.

Stephanie's First E-book Bundle

Stephanie admits that she wasn't the first person to create an e-book bundle. Mandi from Life Your Way started a Simplify Your Family Life Bundle. Stephanie was part of a couple of those as an author of some e-books, but nobody was doing a bundle for the healthy living niche.

Stephanie thought, "what if someone could pull together amazing healthy resources like tutorials for creating your own skin care products, cleaning products, and more." Stephanie and her VA pulled that first bundle together.

A few weeks before the bundle Stephanie's husband Ryan got on board and wanted to make it really big. He told her that her financial goals were too small! He brought on some sponsors for the bundle and partners who would offer courses and product discounts. They pulled an all-nighter the night before they launched their first bundle and ran into all sorts of glitches and problems, but they got it off the ground, and it was a success!

The authors and contributors to the Healthy Living Bundle were so excited that they were making sales. The Langfords were just thrilled to offer something that was an amazing value at a great price, and at the same time they got to support great bloggers.

Stephanie says she never could have predicted what would come of that first bundle sale in the Fall of 2012. But in 2.5 years, Ultimate Bundles has grown into a very successful company!

Stephanie Langford with her husband Ryan and their kids (sans their newest addition!)
Stephanie Langford with her husband Ryan and their kids (sans their newest addition!)

Recruiting Authors

We assumed that for the very first bundle, it may have been tricky to recruit enough authors and convey the benefits of being part of the sale. Stephanie says there were a lot of back and forth emails. The authors had a lot of questions because they'd never been in an e-book bundle before. It was more complicated in the beginning, but thankfully Stephanie had been in the healthy living niche for a long time, so she already had many great blogging relationships. They had already partnered together on blog carnivals or seasonal events in the past. "Those relationships were really the key to getting something bigger going," says Stephanie.

The Pros and Cons of Adding Affiliates

Stephanie says that she was nervous about bringing affiliates on board for her first bundle sale. She wanted to make sure the ebook authors benefitted the most from the sale, and she didn't want their contribution to a bundle to be watered down by other people selling it. Ultimately, they did choose to add affiliates for the first bundle sale, and all their bundles sales thereafter.

They came up with a solution to really honor each author's contribution. Authors received a bonus so that instead of the organizers (Ryan and Stephanie) taking the extra profit that would have come from the affiliates they instead gave it to the authors who participated in the bundle and gave it to them.

This was a win-win because they were able to spread the bundle further, get the authors names and blogs out there into the hands of more readers but still reward the authors in a big way for participating.

Erin Joins the Team

Erin participated as an author in Stephanie's first healthy living bundle. Erin got the idea for a homemaking bundle not too long after. She was sitting in a MOPS meeting and the speaker was talking about all the roles homemakers play. We're the cooks, cleaners, organizers, oftentimes the educators, and more. Erin sat there thinking, "no wonder I'm overwhelmed!" At the time, she had a 4 year old, 2 year old, and a newborn, and she thought, "what can I do to help other homemakers like me?"

She wanted to assemble a group of resources that would help and equip homemakers to fulfill their role even better. She thought about doing a bundle sale similar to Stephanie's, but she didn't want to take her idea, and she didn't want to do it alone because she's not technologically inclined.

On the other hand, Erin knew she had a lot of relationships with other bloggers that she could bring to the table. She approached Stephanie, and Stephanie chatted with her husband Ryan about it. They said yes!

How to Work out an Agreement for a Business Venture

The Langfords and Odoms didn't go to a lawyer and have an official contract written up, but they did decide on their particular roles and write everything down and agree upon it.

Stephanie says that it came down to a lot of conversations about who had strengths in which areas and what made the most sense. They determined how to divide things up so that everyone was equally giving, everyone was equally using their gifts, and everyone was equally benefitting from the arrangement.

They had hours and hours of Skype calls trying to figure everything out, getting to know each other better and determining their strengths and weaknesses .

Running the very first bundle was a lot of work and truly exhausting. There was only so much Stephanie could do on her own to develop the bundle and make it an event that she was proud to put on. But with 3 people - Erin, Ryan, and Stephanie - they were able to accomplish much more. Even early on, both Stephanie and Erin had VA's helping them. Now they've expanded the team even more to include someone doing customer service and someone who does the back-end technical stuff. They've also hired graphic designers and copywriters.

"That's really the only way that any business can continue to grow and develop successfully is by realizing that you can't do it all on your own and bringing on other people who have strengths that are different than yours," Stephanie says.

How to Find Great Help

While some people recommend Elance or Odesk to find outside help, Stephanie and Erin both recommend reaching out to your networks. They've both been involved in so many different blogging groups that it's been easy to find most of their team members this way. Many of their team members have been bundle authors, one of their main staff on Ultimate Bundles right now is Mandi Ehman who already had experience running her own bundle sale!

This isn't to say that there haven't been struggles when it comes to hiring. They've had to hire outside of their network on occasion, and in these cases it seems to be less predictable on how the relationship will work out. They've gone through a lot of copywriters over the last few years. Sometimes it does take trial and error before you find the right staff, but working with the connections you already have, when possible, does make it easier.

The Most Popular Bundle

We were curious about which bundle, between Healthy Living, Homemaking, and DIY has been the most popular.

Stephanie says that the Healthy Living Bundle is the one where they've had their best sale ever, but it's still hard to say since the DIY bundle is brand new and they have more established relationships with authors in the healthy living and homemaking niches.

Keep your eyes and ears open, because Ultimate Bundles just completed their Digital Photography Bundle, and they have a Business Survival Bundle coming this Fall :)

Tips on Recruiting Authors

Erin is the relationship-building Queen, and since she's recruited the authors for all but the very last bundle, we had to get the inside scoop on how to approach them and build great relationships.

  1. Don't be scared about approaching anyone. Erin spent hours and hours trying to figure out who's who in each niche and interacting with bloggers that a few years ago, she may have been afraid to approach. Tell yourself, "I'm going to approach them and the worst they can do is say no."
  2. Be authentic. Erin is approaching authors and bloggers with something that she wholeheartedly and enthusiastically believes in, so that makes her job easy.
  3. Let them know that it's a quadruple win. It's a win for them as the organizers, a huge win for the authors who make a good income, a win for their affiliates, and a win for their customers.

Thankfully, Erin rarely gets told no, but one of the hardest parts of her jobs is turning people away. During the last sale she had to turn more than 100 people away. The more they grow the more strict they have to be on the quality of the e-books and products included. They want to put together the best product possible, so that means they can't include everyone.

Erin Odom with her husband and their three girls.
Erin Odom with her husband and their three girls.

How to Decide which Books to Include

Mandi Ehman is now the point person for book selection, but for the past several years Erin has done all the vetting for homemaking and healthy living. She has VA's that help her to go through the books but Erin is the ultimate decision maker. Often if they're down to a few choices and Stephanie and Erin will get on Skype to look over the books together and make the final cuts.

Erin says It's almost like moving around pieces on a chess board. They look at the overall bundle and the different categories. If there are too many books in one category, they may have to pass on some. They also look at the platform size of the blogger contributing although that's not the only factor.

We were curious about whether or not Erin enjoyed reading all the submissions she receives.

She said it's fun. She always tries to keep the customer in mind. She and Stephanie are their ideal customer so they always consider what they would like. Erin also loves building relationships with authors.

Why Ultimate-Bundles Can't Include Every Book

Ultimate-Bundles has really expanded its offerings with each bundle sale. The first-ever healthy living bundle only had 33 books. That was more common at that time. When Erin came on board for the Homemaking bundle, her ENFP personality shone through, and she had so many books for Stephanie and Ryan to consider. They were getting overwhelmed with close to 100 books for the bundle. This is when the brand became Ultimate Bundles, and they try to beat themselves every time.

At the same time, they knew there would be a point where there would be overwhelm: Overwhelm for the authors promoting the sale and overwhelm for the readers buying the bundle. What they wanted to do was create an amazing resource library - an essential library for whatever the given topic was. They also want to build a relationship with the authors and be able to support them well through the sale, and that would be impossible if Ultimate Bundles included every single book.

Marketing Strategies for Affiliates and Authors

Stephanie and Erin shared a lot of great tips on making sales.

  1. Set tangible, realistic goals but push yourself a little bit.
  2. Have a plan and a strategy, and write down exactly how you're going to accomplish your goal.
  3. Email is really important. Those are people who like you, want to hear from you, and want to know what you're recommending.
  4. Write great content. Present the bundle sale well using awesome, evergreen, shareable posts.
  5. Share those great posts on social media. Use social media not so much as a promotional tool, but more as a way to drive traffic back to your site.
  6. On your site, mention the bundle below every blog post and within your most popular posts.
  7. Have an authentic voice.
  8. Work really hard and give it your all.
  9. Track your links so you can figure out what works best.

Overall, Stephanie and Erin know that their email lists are where they make the most sales, so they focus their efforts there.

How to Track Sales

At Ultimate Bundles, they use Infusionsoft for advanced link tracking. Even their affiliates can use a different link on their blog posts versus email versus social media. Then you can really see where your sales are coming from.
Another way to track links is via UTM tracking in Google Analytics. (We haven't tried this yet, so we can't speak to how easy or difficult it is. We just know that it's there!)

If you're not equipped to track a click all the way through to a sale, you can use bit.ly or pretty links to determine where you are getting the most clicks, and this should be a pretty good indicator of sales. Just use a different link for each place where you mention the product or sale that you're promoting.

Funny Mom Moments

Both Erin and Stephanie's daughters had some funny things to say! You'll have to tune in to hear their stories :)

Stay in Touch with Erin and Stephanie

Stephanie KeeperoftheHome.org
EntreFamily.com
Ultimate-Bundles.org
Insta: @entrestephanie

Erin:  TheHumbledHomemaker.com
Instagram @erinbodom

Direct download: Episode209220Erin20Odom202620Stephanie20Langford_mixdown.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:00am EDT

Love this lady!  She's so kind, caring, and giving.  She manages a team with grace and reminds you that you don't have to be cut-throat to succeed in business.  Love the comparison of different Pinterest services too.  |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com

If you've been blogging or Etsy selling for a while now, you've probably polished quite a few skills in the process. Have you ever considered taking one of those specialized skills and turning it into a business all its own? That's exactly what Kate Ahl did with Simple Pin Media. As a contributing blogger and VA, she learned the ins and outs of Pinterest to help grow the site, Frugal Living Northwest, then she took her skills on the road and started her own Pinterest service company.

Simple Pin Media helps bloggers and small business owners promote their brand on Pinterest so they are freed up to create awesome content that serves their readers, customers, and clients. When it comes to rapidly-growing businesses, I tend to picture a cut-throat, extremist CEO running the ship. Kate couldn't be further from that image! She's kind, people-oriented, and has grown her business through referrals by genuinely caring for each client and employee she brings under her wing.

You're gonna love Kate. Press play on the podcastplayer below to hear her story!

On the Podcast

01:09 - Unemployment was Running Out, So Here's What Kate Did...
05:44 - An Unexpected Service
07:46 - The Simple Pin Solution
11:10 - Keep your Personal Pinterest Account or Start Fresh?
13:57 - The Secret Scoop on Secret Boards
16:49 - A Comparison of Pinterest Tools
24:02 - Pinterest Strategy
26:00 - How One Person Helped Kate Grow her Business
28:07 - People over Proficiency
31:19 - A Typical Day for an A-Typical Family
33:43 - How Kate Wows her Clients
36:19 - Why We're Our Own Worst Enemy
40:05 - Kate's Funny Kids

Unemployment was Running Out, So Here's What Kate Did...

About four years ago Kate started working with a friend of hers who owned Frugal Living Northwest. Three years into her role as site contributor, Kate's husband lost his job. As they approached the end of unemployment, they knew Kate's part-time salary wasn't going to be enough to support their family of five.

This was in early 2013. Facebook was changing its algorithm and people were flooding to Pinterest. Kate's friend, Angela Davis, suggested that Kate become a Pinterest manager and manage people's business pages on the site.
Initially, Kate thought Angela was crazy. Angela encouraged her by saying, "just do some research. Practice with the Frugal Living NW site and see what you think." This was September of 2013, and Kate spent 2 months saturating herself with everything Pinterest. She joined Facebook groups, read tons of blog posts, discovered Viraltag, and consumed everything possible about the site.

In January of 2014 Kate got a friend to help her create a website for her new business, then she started her client list with 2 blogging friends of Angela's. Kate said to them, "I will take you on as beta clients, and if this doesn't work, we're just gonna pretend it never existed!"

Kate was ready for the business to fail but she also really wanted it to work because her family needed the income so badly. (I think you can figure out how this one ends!)

An Unexpected Service

The main benefit that Simple Pin Media provides is that bloggers and business owners don't have to worry about Pinterest. They can focus on their readers and followers because that's what will last forever. What Kate really provides - beyond more followers and pageviews, is the relief of someone walking alongside the blogger. They don't have to navigate a confusing form of social media alone.

The Simple Pin Solution

Simple Pin Media has several different packages depending on a business owner's budget and needs. No matter which package a business owner chooses, the essence of what Simple Pin does is take exactly who that blogger or business owner is, and pin pins that are 50% their content and 50% content that fits their brand.

Each client starts the process by filling out a branding form so Simple Pin knows just what they should or shouldn't pin for them. Oftentimes, Simple Pin will clean up board covers and chance the location of boards. They may re-do the titles and descriptions of boards so that they're optimized not just for Pinterest but for Google too.

Simple Pin maintains a business' Pinterest account by keeping it fresh and keeping it active. Kate says that consistency is key when it comes to being successful on Pinterest.

Keep your Personal Pinterest Account or Start Fresh?

Many new bloggers and business owners wonder if they can keep all of their personal boards, pins, and followers when they decide to launch their new site or business. It can feel so daunting to start a social media account from scratch.

What does Kate think about transitioning a personal Pinterest account to a Business account?
If your business aligns with some of the personal boards you already have, feel free to keep it and transition it over to your business page. When you do this, make sure you put all of your business-focused boards at the top.
For example, if you're a mom and you've already created several boards for kids activities, crafts, and clothing, and you decide to start an Etsy shop full of hair bows for girls, you can keep that personal account. Just add new boards solely focused on your business, as well as intermixing your product pins in with the boards you already have.

On the other hand, if your new business is completely different than what you pin about (for example, you're starting a cat toy business and you've never pinned a single thing about cats!) then it's best to just start fresh with a brand new Pinterest account and page.

What if you can't decide?

Kate says a great rule of thumb is to ask yourself, "If I was to sell my business today, would I be able to sell this Pinterest account right along with it?" If the answer is no because there's too much of "you" wrapped up in that account, chances are it's not the right account to use for your business.

If you're not willing to give up your Pinterest page, then you should consider keeping that page for your personal use and starting fresh with a new business-only Pinterest page.

The Secret Scoop on Secret Boards

There are several great reasons to use secret boards on Pinterest:

  1. Pin personal items that don't relate to your business. (Ex. Kate's family had to remodel a bathroom in January, so she pinned all sorts of bathroom ideas to her secret board under her business account!)
  2. Pin a bunch of items at once without flooding your followers' feeds. Scheduling tools and programs can help you to do this as well, but a DIY approach would be to save those items to a secret board and pin them to the appropriate boards throughout the week.
  3. Pin ideas or inspiration. If you're creating a new series for your blog or just need photo inspiration, secret boards are a great place to collect ideas without having to worry about descriptions and organization.

Secret Tip: A way to pin to 2 accounts at once. Pinterest doesn't make this easy, but there is a trick within Tailwind. You can add both accounts into the scheduling program, and from there, as long as you're logged into one of your Pinterest accounts, you can add pins to either one.

A Comparison of Pinterest Tools

ViralTag - Pin and schedule content from anywhere on the web. The pin number is unlimited. Cost: $29/month.

Tailwind - Same batch pin scheduling, but Kate prefers their analytics. Tailwind also has smart scheduling so they'll pick the best times for your pins to go out. Price: $15/month and a limit of 400 pins per month. Or pay annually for $119 ($10/month) and get unlimited pins.

Ahalogy - Functions like a sub-Pinterest for only a select number of people. If you're approved to be a content partner. (There are only about 1,500 or so) then your content is shown to brands who can use your content on Pinterest or their own site and potentially pay you for that content. However, as a user, you're severely limited by the content selection and what you can pin from Ahalogy. For Kate, it's a new window of exposure for her client's content.

Board Booster - Great program for Pinners who want to set Pinterest on Autopilot. You set up a campaign and then Board Booster loops through content that you already have on a given board. It can take a long time to set up and be confusing, but the program is still fairly new. It doesn't work well if you want to continually discover new content to pin. Price: First 100 pins are free. After that, the monthly plans come out to 1 cent per pin. (ex. $5.00/month for 500 pins)

Pinterest Strategy

Kate's biggest tip in regards to killing it on Pinterest is to be consistent. You need to be fresh, active, and curating great content.

With so many things on our to-do lists, how can we realistically be consistent with Pinterest?

Kate recommends getting on Pinterest for a few minutes in the evening while you're relaxing. Some people pin for 10 minutes per day, 3 times per day, but if that feels like too much, just use a pin scheduling tool to ensure that you're pinning at least 20 pins per day. You can get on Pinterest once a week and schedule out those 20-45 pins per day for the whole week. We can all find one hour per week to devote to Pinterest.

The Person Who Helped Kate Grow her Business

In November of 2014 Kate hired a business coach. She felt like she was tripping over her feet. She was in the middle of growing her team and had lots of ideas on what she could do with her business, but she didn't have a good foundation for it.

Kate's business coach has helped her to think clearly and strategically about how to put a foundation in place that would allow her business to be a well-oiled machine.

Kate found her coach via a friend who was working with him. She emailed the coach and said, "I'm a mess. I need help." They started working together the next week and they're still meeting twice a month.

People over Proficiency

Kate now has a team of 11 women in the Portland area. Her first hire was in July of 2014, and she chose an artistic, creative friend to help her find outside pins. Her friend knocked it out of the park! Since then, she's hired her team members based on referrals from friends.

The first thing Kate asks someone when she gets a referral is "tell me about who they are? Tell me what their strongest asset is?" If the answer is, "they're loyal, they're dependable, they're trustworthy, and they're hard-working" then Kate is sold! She can teach a team member how to do what she does, but finding someone with good character is not so easy.

As long as a team member is consistent, asking Kate questions, and committed to their client, Kate knows they're on the right track.

The benefits of hiring local.

Kate loves having a team that's local to Portland so they can meet twice a year to talk about what's going on with each of their accounts. Most of the Pinterest strategy comes from Kate, but she also wants to give each staff member the freedom to try new strategies and really see what works best. In between in-person meetings, Kate's staff members communicate via a private Facebook group.

A Typical Day for an Atypical Family

Kate schedules blocks of time to work Monday through Friday from 8 AM to 1 PM. During the week, Kate's daughters are both in school most of the day. Kate's husband is a traveling preacher, so he's generally not working on Mondays and Tuesdays.

On Mondays and Tuesdays Kate husband and her son pal around together while she's working. Wednesdays through Friday Kate shares a sitter with a friend. Her son gets to go over to a friend's house and have a great time, and Kate gets a great deal on childcare.

The evenings are sacred family time. No computers. No screens. Kate may pop on the computer in the evening after the kids go to bed but that's rare these days. When she was both a blogging contributor and running Simple Pin, life was a bit crazier!

Mamapreneur Kate Ahl of Simple Pin Media with her family.
Kate with her family

 

How Kate Wows her Clients

As a nurturing personality-type, it comes naturally to Kate to foster her client relationships. Her business is not on autopilot. She touches base with them in many ways:

  • Gives feedback on content
  • Makes sure the right links are in their posts
  • Makes email sign-ups more apparent
  • Is available. She sees them, sees their content, and knows that they're working hard.
  • Kate doesn't offer just be a pinning service but coaching to help you be a better business owner and manager

Why We're Our Own Worst Enemy

Despite Kate's business success and great feedback from her clients, Kate can still be her own worst enemy sometimes. She gets discouraged and begins to doubt herself from time to time. She questions whether people find her services valuable and whether they really want more information from her.

(Isn't this true of so many of us Mamapreneurs? It can be a daily battle!)

Kate's Funny Kids

You'll have to tune in to hear Kate's son's funny antics!

Stay in Touch with Kate

SimplePinMedia.com

Kate's New Course:  Pinterest 101: How to Set Up Your Pinterest Page for Success

Direct download: Episode209120Kate20Ahl20final_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:04am EDT

Do you ever think about all the money and time you spent on college and higher education and wonder if it was worth it? You may be able to leverage the power of your education and experiences in ways you wouldn't expect! That's exactly what Racheal Cook did. She took her MBA and consulting experience and switched gears from working with huge companies to working with small yoga studios. She designed a business that fit her life as a mom to three young kids, but she didn't have to start from scratch. She leveraged the power of her previous job experiences, set up free sessions which filled her client docket, and ultimately created and marketed a super successful online program.

On the Podcast

01:10 - How Racheal Used her MBA to Start her Own Business
04:18 - How Becoming a Mom Shaped Her Business Design
06:02 - Getting her First Clients
8:55 -The Pros and Cons of Niche-ing Down
11:36 - What is the SBA All About?
15:05 - Racheal's Hardest Year in Business
21:14 - How to Use Free Sessions to Get Clients
23:02 - The Benefit of Being Choosy with Clients
25:35 - How to turn Down Clients Gracefully
28:26 - Launching and Marketing an Online Program
33:36 - How to Use a Challenge to Grow your Biz
37:29 - What Racheal is Most Proud of
41:39 - Racheal's Embarassing Mom Moment!

Press play on the podcast player below to hear Racheal's Story along with her best advice for mamapreneurs.

How Racheal Used her MBA to Start her Own Business

Racheal started her career path as a typical "Type A" achiever. She walked out of her MBA program thinking she'd ultimately be a COO or CEO somewhere. As a newlywed, she realized she was spending more time at the office than with her new husband. Sunday was her only day off and she usually slept away most of the day because she was so exhausted!

One of Racheal's goals was to be a mom, and she wanted to be a young mom. She realized she didn't want to take on the traditional career route of waiting to have kids until after age forty while she focused on work.

Her first business, the Yogipreneur started a bit by accident. She was focused on taking care of herself and took a leave of absence from her corporate work. She started doing yoga regularly, and her yoga instructor asked if she would look at her business and tell her how she could turn her things around to become a profitable yoga studio.
The light bulb went on as Racheal realized that there are plenty of small businesses that need help too.

Previously, she worked only with very large businesses as a consultant. Racheal's work with her yoga instructor evolved into the Yogipreneur where she works with yoga and health-minded businesses to grow and be profitable.

How Becoming a Mom Shaped her Business Design

Racheal says that becoming a mom has been the biggest catalyst for the way she does things now. When she first started working with yoga studios she used the same consulting model she had used in the corporate world. She would travel to the studios and spend lots of time on the ground observing their systems, finances, and getting to know their businesses in person.

Racheal's business model had to change after she became pregnant for the first time... with twins! Her pregnancy was complicated, and she was on bed rest from 26 weeks until delivery at 37 weeks. She had to figure out how to work without having to travel, so she took her business online and did everything via Skype, phone calls, in addition to online webinars and programs.

Racheal has created a lifestyle business where she can be home with her kids. She now works about 25 hours per week instead of the 80 hours she used to work in the corporate world. (Love it!)

Getting her First Clients

Racheal's business grew solely by referrals early on. She worked with her teacher at yoga studio in Richmond, VA and after she was able to turn things around for her within a few months, this studio owner knew a bunch of other yoga studio owners! She'd let her friends know that Racheal helped her so much and tell them to get on the phone with her!

Racheal worked with different yoga studios for 6 months at a time, then she'd move on to the next referral.
To this day, referrals still drive so much of Racheal's online business. Most of her private clients come via referral because a friend or colleague of theirs had worked with Racheal and told them what a great experience they had.

Even with so much emphasis placed on social media, chances are your new visitors are finding your website because one of their friends pinned something from you or shared one of your articles on Facebook. The power of referrals is still very much at work!

The Pros and Cons of Niche-ing Down

The Pros

A lot of people resist nicheiing down as they're afraid it will turn people away, but Racheal has found the exact opposite to be true in her business. If you're working online and geography no longer matters, then being in a niche is what makes you easier to find online. It makes you more memorable.

Racheal contends that having a clearly defined niche caused the Yogipreneur to grow so quickly. She wasn't just another yoga business coach under her own name her whole business was branded for yoga. Visitors to her sit instantly knew whether they were in the right place.

The Cons (although not really!)

Your niche may evolve over time. Racheal has been running the Yogipreneur since 2008, and only 40% of her current clients have yoga businesses. The rest are life coaches, wellness providers, or have other creative businesses. This doesn't mean she needs to abandon everything; it just means what she's talking about is resonating with people.

A Great Example of Niche-ing Down then Scaling Up

The Huffington Post started out as a very specific type of blog: a political blog. But now they cover absolutely everything on their site.

You can cut your teeth in a small market and become known in that space, then once your roots are established, allow yourself to branch out. (Great advice! Your niche doesn't have to limit you - it can help you to grow!)

What is the SBA All About?

When Rachael cut her teeth in consulting 10 years ago she worked for the SBA (Small Business Association) for a program called entrepreneurial initiative. Every town that's decent-sized has an SBA and some level of support for business owners.

You can go in and get free or inexpensive business resources and advice. They'll help you figure out whether you should be an LLC or an S-Corp. They'll have access to resources to help you do market research. There are people at your local SBA who are incredibly knowledgeable about your area.

Rachael worked with bio-tech start-up companies to prep them for their first round of angel investing. She had access to hundreds of thousands of dollars of industry research. She could help them write a business plan or figure out what kind of funding made sense for them.

SCORE is another great organization that's filled with retired executives who provide mentorship to new start-ups and new companies.  They'll look over your business plan and introduce you to people you should know in your industry, among many other things.

Racheal's Hardest Year in Business

Although Racheal started her business in 2008, she didn't go online until the end of 2010 as her twins were turning one. This was her hardest year in business.

She had a website but didn't have a clue what it was supposed to be doing for her other than look pretty! Her website designer asked if she wanted a newsletter sign-up form, so over a couple of years she grew a little newsletter list even though she never emailed them.

By 2010, Racheal had run out of all of her savings from her corporate work. When she first started the Yogipreneur, she wasn't concerned about profit . She just wanted to work with enough people to prove that this was a niche she could serve.

But after you have kids the need to make real money can change drastically! She knew she had to start turning a profit. Her husband's English teacher salary only brought in $3,000/month for the family. So with babies still breast-feeding, no family in the area to help babysit, and no extra money to invest in the business, Racheal decided that she was going to make things work online.

The first thing she had to do was figure out childcare... but she had no money to spend on it so she got creative. Racheal and another twin mom in the city shared a babysitter. She'd spend a few hours at Racheal's house 2 days per week and a few hours at her friend's house. Even that babysitting money felt like a big stretch at the time.
She knew she had to fill her client docket fast to be profitable. She called everyone she knew asking for referrals and spent lots of time doing free consulting sessions. At the end of the month, she had a full client docket for the next 6 months! (See more tips from Racheal on filling your client docket fast.)

Beyond finding her customers and turning a profit, Racheal says her first year in business was tough because she had to learn a lot about technology. It was a steep learning curve. She didn't have money to spend on a new site. So 2010 was a lot of hustle, but by the end of the year she had a lot of new skills. She can now design and develop pretty much any website she needs!

By the end of her first 12 months in online business Racheal launched her first online program and made $50,000. She was able to break 6 figures in her business in that first year. (Wow! Work it, Racheal!)

Mamapreneur Racheal Cook - Love her Fired Up and Focused Challenge!  | brilliantbusnessmoms.com

How to Use Free Sessions to Get Clients

Racheal has two great tips to ensure that your free sessions are effective in building your business and not time-wasters for you.

  1. Have an Application Process. Even before someone gets a free session with Racheal, they have to fill out a 10-minute application, and she'll decide if they should proceed with a session. If she just put a blast out on social media aying "I'm giving away 20 minutes of free coaching" then everyone in the world will sign up. That doesn't mean they're the right person for you to work with or that they're willing and ready to invest in themselves. The application weeds out freebie seekers and brain pickers.
  2. Structure Sessions like an Interview. Racheal's potential clients go into their call with her knowing that they'll get a piece of valuable advice from her, but that it's really more of an interview. It's an opportunity to see if the relationship is a good fit for both of them and if Racheal can get that client where they want to go.

The Benefit of Being Choosy with Clients

Racheal cautions against accepting anyone and everyone who will pay you. It's very difficult when you're looking at your children thinking, "I have to get food on the table this month" but if you have this mindset of "I'll do anything to make money," you'll end up dreading your work and your clients.

You may end up with clients who don't respect boundaries, clients who always have excuses for why they can't do what you're recommending they do, or clients who expect you to be Google for them.

When Racheal is Choosey about Her Clients They:

  1. Both have more fun!
  2. Get better results
  3.  Give the wrong people permission to go and find the right fit for them.

How to turn Down Clients Gracefully

Racheal shares 3 main steps for turning down clients in a way that doesn't alienate, but rather continues to build strong relationships and provides value.

  1. Racheal doesn't take everyone who applies for a consultation. She may send a quick answer thanking them for applying will say, "I'm booked, or I don't think you're a great fit," and she'll recommend who she thinks would be the right person for them to work with.
  2. Keep a list of other support people potential clients might need. Often an individual needs more clarity on what they're trying to do with their business. For example, they have twenty different ideas and don't know where to begin. Racheal works with entrepreneurs who already have that clear focus and just need to grow.
    Another example are individuals who aren't able to follow through with anything and need more hand-holding and accountability. Racheal is not the right fit - but she knows other people who can help them.
  3. Be willing to be flexible and do what's best for your customers.  Inevitably someone will enroll in Racheal's signature online program called Conscious Business Design and say, "I thought this was what I was looking for but it's really not." They'll email and she'll say, "here's a sales coach or here's a branding expert. That's what you need first before coming to me."She refunds them and points them in the right direction.

Even those individuals that Racheal has turned down in the past will send her new clients because they now understand her more and what she does and they trust and respect her because of her positive interaction with them.

Launching and Marketing an Online Program

Racheal says that her online course took 250 hours to create and record... and another 200 hours to market!
She created the course just using screenflow and her voice over the content. She drew from several years of experience working with clients and doing workshops. She had already worked with 100 yogo entrepreneurs at that point!

How to Market an Online Program

  1. 3-Part Video Training Series. Rachel created 3 training videos to provide value and get people excited about her course. They were recorded in her home office, with her webcam, no microphone, and the lamp shades taken off of her lamps for lighting! It wasn't professional quality, but it worked. She sold out her program for its first launch season.
  2. An Email Challenge. Rachel added the Fired Up and Focused 21-Day challenge as a way to help business owners to be more productive. By providing value in 21 days of emails, this email challenge has helped tremendously in earning Racheal customers for her online program.

Are Online Programs Passive?

Racheal confesses that hers is not! Others have told her to put the program on autopilot, and she tried it once when she was pregnant with her third child, but she hated not knowing who was on the other end of their course.
Racheal feels that: "this is someone who spent a good amount of money with me. I want to know their name, I want to know what their goals are."

She only takes 50 people at a time for her Conscious Business Design Course, and live coaching calls, email coaching, and a very active private Facebook group are included in the course. Racheal also has two success coaches who are alumni of the program who make sure everyone in the course gets the help they need.
So Racheal says that although her online program is not passive, it's a leveraged way of working with people.

How to Use a Challenge to Grow your Biz

Racheal's Fired Up and Focused Challenge has been a huge success for her business. We were curious as to how it started and why it works so well.

The challenge idea began when Racheal was hosting an in-person retreat with one of her private clients and other "yogipreneurs" that she had brought together. Racheal went around the room asking what people wanted to get out of the retreat, and she was prepared to dig into the nitty gritty business stuff like marketing and finances.
But most people responded with, "I just want to know how to juggle it all. I just want to know what's the most important thing to get done each day...."

So Racheal taught her retreat attendees about focus and productivity instead. And people started saying, "Rachel is so great at getting me focused, helping me prioritize, and teaching me what to track for success."

She realized that entrepreneurs have no shortage of ideas but they have a shortage of time and a lack of knowing how to prioritize their ideas. How do entrepreneurs make consistent forward motion and get the ball rolling in their business? Many entrepreneurs feel like they're always busy but they're not really getting anything done. We mamapreneurs are pulled in a million directions each day. if we don't have clear priorities and know what drives our business forward, we'll never accomplish what we want to.

ideas-dont-grow-businesses-racheal-cook

(I'm definitely pinning this one for later... scratch that... I'm printing it out and hanging it above my workspace!)

What Racheal is Most Proud of

This past year she was able to let her husband quit his job so he could come work with her on the business, and it's been wonderful! As a former English teacher, he makes the perfect editor-in-cheif for her business. More and more, women entrepreneurs are hoping that they can do more than just contribute to their family but really create freedom for their family... whether that means more time together, the ability to travel... you name it!

What Did Racheal do that Allowed her Husband to Come Home?

When Racheal launched the Fired up and Focused Challenge, it 3xed her business over the year before. The biggest thing she did to replace her husband's income was double-down on what worked. Racheal says it's easy for us to get stuck in our businesses. Instead of focusing on what's working, we have a great win, and then move on to the next idea instead of taking that great win and doing it again.

So when Racheal found that the Fired Up and Focused Challenge did so well and helped her sell out her program, she launched it again two more times that year. Then in 2015, Racheal launched the challenge in January, and she just ran it again in May.

Racheal isn't trying a bunch of different things. She just focuses on what she knows will work. This frees up her time so she can work on other long-term projects like writing a book. She also spends time doing interviews and writing content for other sites.

Racheal's Embarassing Mom Moment!

Racheal finally left town as mom to a baby to attend a conference.... I'll let her tell you what happened next on the podcast!

Stay in Touch with Racheal

RachealCook.com

FiredUpandFocused.com

Direct download: Episode209020Racheal20Cook_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:48am EDT

Love this Mamapreneur's story!  She sent her product to celebrities and it took off!  She has a booming business with 16 employees, and she still gets to create jewelry she loves.  |  brilliantbusinessmmoms.com

From a hobby in a closet to a major business in only a few short years? Jill Donovan has certainly accomplished a lot with her business, Rustic Cuff, which makes beautiful cuff bracelets. Jill's amazing story is laced with the theme of people and their importance in making her dreams a reality.

On the Podcast

02:50 - The Oprah Show!
15:10 - Still Handmade?
16:54 - Strategies to grow
22:00 - Early sales
25:15 - Scaling
29:05 - Expanding Inventory
35:12 - In Stores
37:08 - Total Sales
38:15 - The Importance of Packaging
40:58 - Questions about Starting a Business
42:20 - Jill’s Fun Mom Moment
43:45 - On Balance
44:16 - Creating the Ideal Work Environment

Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to Hear her Full Story.  Jill is so much fun - you'll want to tune in and listen to her tell it in her own words!

 

The Oprah Show!

What does the Oprah Show, Canadian etiquette, and mortification have to do with Rustic Cuff’s beginnings? You’ll have to listen to Jill tell this story!

Still Handmade?

We were so curious, with the huge sales volume that Rustic Cuff does now, are the cuffs still handmade? Jill definitely got to the point where she couldn’t make each cuff herself, so after a year in business she found a work space outside of her home and hired women to help her continue to make the cuffs by hand. Jill now has 22 employees, 6 of whom are dedicated to the handmade production of each cuff.

Strategies to Grow

Early on Jill decided she didn’t want to spend money on advertising, she wanted her business to grow in a grass-roots sort of way. She selected 20 celebrities and sent them each several cuffs that she thought they would enjoy. She found beautiful wood boxes and packaged the cuffs in a special way. Jill sent them off and waited to see what would happen. Then one day, she saw Kathie Lee on the Today Show wearing one of the Rustic Cuffs Jill had sent her! Gradually she saw other celebrities wearing them in magazine photo shoots or on TV.  Jill has a page on Rustic Cuff dedicated to all of the celebrity sightings of Rustic Cuffs, check it out!

Early Sales

Early on, making cuffs was something Jill was just doing for fun. She had given a cuff to a friend who worked at a make-up counter. One day her friend called her to beg Jill to begin selling them because so many of her co-workers and customers wanted to buy one. At first Jill protested, saying she was just making the bracelets for fun. Eventually Jill gave in and made some to sell. Another friend convinced her to have a home party, and she sold 200 the night of the party. Things began to spread by word of mouth at that point.

Bracelets from Rustic Cuff.  Did you know this Handmade Business has had over 100,000 sales?!  Jill has grown it by sending her product to celebrities - great idea!  |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com

Scaling

Sometimes Jill says it feels like she is Noah and God handed her a hammer and said I know you don’t like animals or like to build, but I want you to build an ark.  I’m not going to show you the whole blueprint. I’m just going to give you one board at a time.

Every day Jill just learned what she had to learn for that day. She took growing her business one day at a time, and one plank at a time. Now she is part of Thrive 15 which would have been so valuable when she was plunged into the world of business, and didn't know what she was doing. Thrive 15 is great because you can learn from business mentors in short 15 minute videos on so many helpful topics.

Expanding Inventory

Inventory management can be tricky. You never know how your customers are going to react to a new product offering. Jill has definitely misread in the past and had thousands extra or been thousands short on products. It’s better to have more demand rather than over-spend and have too much product left over. Over time you get enough history and you learn the patterns and get a better idea of how much to buy. Jill would rather be left with people wanting a product that sells out, because the next time a new product comes out, they’ll remember that sometimes items sell out quickly, and they will be primed to buy immediately and not wait.

Jill has so many ideas for new cuffs, so sometimes she has to reign herself in and not do everything all at once!

Getting Into Stores

Rustic Cuff can be found in hundreds of stores across the country. For the most part the stores contacted Jill about selling her cuffs in their stores.  It's amazing how growth can happen when more and more people wear and love your product.

Total Sales

How many cuffs has Jill sold since she started her business? Listen to hear!  We were blown away!

The Importance of Packaging

Jill wants to invest money on the front end so that each cuff is presented as a beautiful gift to each person who purchases. Jill's advice: make sure everything you do is better than anybody else and is done with amazing quality. Create packaging that makes you look like a bigger company than you really are. Jill actually changes the packaging a little bit each season so that it stays fresh for her repeat customers.

Questions about Starting a Business

Jill gets a lot of questions from people about how to start a business. She points them in the direction of Thrive 15 where they can get great business advice from various mentors in 15 minute video segments. If you use the code RUSTIC you can watch as many videos as you want - free for a month.

Jill’s Fun Mom Moment

Jill’s girls think they are ready to enter the world as entrepreneurs!  Listen to hear their declaration!

Jill Donovan with her Daughters.  She's a Mamapreneur and Handmade Jewelry Business Owner.  Click to hear her full story and learn how to leverage your connections to grow your own business.  |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com
Jill with her daughters

 

On Balance

Jill doesn’t balance her two worlds, she just merges them! She brings her kids into her business world so that they are not alienated from it.

Creating the Ideal Work Environment

Jill has created a work-place where women have freedom and flexibility to work around their personal schedules and their children’s activities. They can leave work to pick up kids or attend a school event. They can even bring their kids to work, and all the kids hang out together while the moms finish up their day. This fabulous work environment creates a fun atmosphere and inspires a lot of loyalty among employees. Jill always hires people she really likes before she even needs them. She doesn’t hire people because they have a certain skill set. Jill feels that you can train people to do the jobs that need to be done. She tries to figure out what each person enjoys doing and what they are naturally good at. (Jill says she’ll hire both of us at Rustic cuff!  If we lived in Oklahoma we'd be on it!)

 

Find Jill Online

Rustic Cuff
Thrive 15
Facebook
Instagram

Direct download: Episode208920Jill20Donovan_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:30am EDT

Do you have a great website idea but getting the project started feels a bit overwhelming? What if you could join forces with other talented women and grow that site faster, with less stress? That's what Gianna Kordatzky of FamilyFunTwinCities.com did. She reached out to two other moms with similar sites in her area, and they came together to form a new site that's become so much more popular and effective than any of their sites did on their own. What could you accomplish if you assembled a great team?

Do you have an idea for a great site but the process of starting and growing it just feels overwhelming?  Why not reach out to other moms and build a site as a team?  Learn from Gianna Kordatzky of FamilyFunTwinCities.com  |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com

On the Podcast

01:36 - Making a Home in the Twin Cities
03:19 - The Little Email that Led to a Big Site!
6:26 - The Growth of Family Fun Twin Cities
08:13 - Does a Collaborative Project Mean Ditching your Own Ventures?
09:04 - How to Work Together
13:18 - How to Work Through Differing Opinions
16:43 - The High Points of Working with a Team
19:55 - Tips for Other Moms who want to Create a Similar Site
24:32 - How Much Does it Cost to Run a Site About Family Fun?
27:18 - Site Monetization
30:00 - How to Handle Different Goals
32:58 - Legal Formation
38:00 - Gianna's Adorable Mom moment

Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to Hear the Full Story

Making a Home in the Twin Cities

Gianna and her husband both grew up in small towns, so they never expected to raise their kids in an urban area. As the years progressed and they realized they weren't going anywhere, they decided to truly make the Twin Cities their home. Gianna started a website called Twin Cities Family and used it to figure out what fun things there were to do around town.

The Little Email that Led to a Big Site!

Two years ago, Gianna was part of a group called Blogging Your Passion by Jonathan Milligan, and he encouraged everyone to connect with others in their niche.

Gianna knew of two great sites that kept coming up on Google when she searched for family activities in the Twin Cities. They were FreeFamilyFun.com and TourMoms.com. She thought that the women running these sites were doing a great job.

Gianna still remembers the day when she typed out in the Facebook group comments, "I don't have anything to offer them." Jonathan responded that you don't know if you have anything to offer or not until you reach out and see.

So Gianna sent an email to the ladies who ran each of these sites and introduced herself and asked if there was a way they could work together to promote each others' sites. Joy who ran Free Family Fun was enthusiastic and wanted to meet. Anne who ran Tour Moms was excited but wasn't able to come to the first meeting.

Gianna and Joy met in person and continued to email back and forth. Finally, all three women were able to meet in person. At that first meeting of all three, Anne of TourMoms.com said, "so my husband came up with this idea that maybe we could go in together on one site."

Gianna , who's usually a leap-first kind of person, was actually quite hesitant at first because she felt like she didn't know the other ladies yet. She gave them an honest answer: "I don't know, let me think about it." For a month she kept milling things over and asking her husband the same questions a thousand different ways. Then she finally came to the conclusion that it doesn't hurt to try.

Gianna got in touch and thanked Anne and Joy for their patience and said, "I think why not - let's do this." FamilyFunTwinCities.com was born in the Spring of 2013.

Learn how to start and grow a family activities site with Gianna Kordatzky  |  Find other mamapreneur interviews at brilliantbusinessmoms.com
Gianna and her husband, Chris

The Growth of Family Fun Twin Cities

The collaborative site has grown a lot in the past two years. Some days they get more than 2600 hits. On their own, each lady got no more than 500 hits per day on their sites, if that. So together, their effort has led to way more than what they could have accomplished alone.

Does a Collaborative Project Mean Ditching your Own Ventures?

We were curious about what happened to each woman's individual blog after FFTC was born.

Gianna says that they each kept their own blogs for a while. Gianna mostly sent people over to FFTC and Joy of Free Family Fun did something similar. Anne still has her site, TourMoms.com, but she's changed the focus a bit to just cover the fun things she does with her family and refers people over to Family Fun Twin Cities as well.

It's great, though, that each woman was able to decide on her own time when and how to transition her own projects. As Gianna said, it doesn't hurt to try, and by slowly transitioning out of their own projects, they gave themselves plenty of time to see if the new venture would work.

How to Work Together

The FFTC ladies generally communicate via a private facebook group that's just for the three of them. They generally meet in person about every three months but have recently decided to get together more often.

How to Divide the Work

Gianna says the group has been really blessed to have three ladies who each have different gifts and personality types.

Joy is great at keeping things organized. She does the activities calendar for the site, which is its biggest pull. She also works on administrative and behind-the-scenes tasks. Gianna says that she and Anne quickly realized how gifted Joy is at the calendar when she went on maternity leave and they volunteered to take on the project. It's a lot of work, but Joy does it skilfully!

Anne is the best writer of the group. Her posts on FFTC are the most popular and get the most hits, so she's the main content creator for the site.

Gianna is the most outgoing, so she loves to meet and connect with business owners and help promote the site.

Because their differing roles fit their natural talents so well, everyone feels like they're doing what they were meant to do. And they each offer encouragement to each other when things get tough.

How to Work Through Differing Opinions

With three creative women working together, there are bound to be differing opinions from time to time. Thankfully, Gianna says that they've never had a disagreement where someone's feelings got hurt or anyone was accusing of someone else. There have been 1-2 instances where someone had to speak up to make sure everyone is aware that there is someone in the group who doesn't feel comfortable with the way a decision is going. As a whole, Gianna, Joy, and Anne work really hard to understand each other's points of view.

Gianna gave an example of how they worked through differing opinions in the past. A company wanted to use the services of FFTC and pay them a minimal amount. At the time, Gianna's family was struggling financially, and all she could think about was that they were going to get money and they need to say yes. Anne and Joy felt that this joint venture wasn't a great fit and would take away from their site. Gianna countered with: "this is an income generator and we need this." Later, she realized that she wasn't trusting God through things, and with time, she was able to look at the situation in a new light and realize that Anne and Joy were right - the venture wasn't a good use of their time and resources.

She got onto their Facebook group and said, "you guys are right - we shouldn't do this."

Gianna's advice when your team faces a disagreement:

Keep talking it out. Don't force a decision to be made until everyone is comfortable with it.
Time can be a clarifying factor. (Great advice!)

The High Points of Working with a Team

  1. Synergy is real! If you add up what Gianna, Anne, and Joy accomplished on their own sites compared to what FFTC accomplishes now, they're at way more than triple the traffic and value. Working together has produced a much stronger site and brand.
  2. Fun, family experiences. The ladies of FFTC get to do all sorts of fun things for free! Recently, a company in Minnesota asked them to come ziplining and review them. Of course they said yes and had a blast! They also get to meet local authors and business owners which is just so fun.
  3. The FFTC Birthday Party. FFTC has a Birthday party to celebrate the site's anniversary each year. This year, 100 families are expected to show up. Readers get to come hang out with them in real life and do fun activities to celebrate! Gianna just loves connecting with their biggest fans - the moms who are first to comment on their posts and Facebook page - it's great to provide them with awesome real-life experiences too.
Create a family fun site and run it with your friends!  Online business idea for mamapreneurs.
The Family Fun Twin Cities Team: Joy, Gianna, and Anne.

Tips for Other Moms who want to Create a Similar Site

  1. Figure out what you can comfortably do with your kids and family. Which activities will work well for you? Which of your kids can you take and which kids might need to stay home? Plan ahead so you're ready to take on the fun!
  2. Take Lots of Photos. Even if the photos are horrible and blurry - some photos are always better than no photos. People want to see the experience you had. (If you can take better than blurry, bad photos - then of course, that's great!) Don't forget to bring your camera and capture some memories.
  3. Reach Out to Other Moms. It's a lot more fun to run a site like FFTC with other people. If you hear about an awesome play you want to check out but you can't because you're busy that night, then you can throw it out to your partners and see who wants to go. Sure, it's scary to start a site like FFTC, but you can hide behind your computer when you make the ask. The other moms won't know how devastated you'll be if they say no! Just hit send and remember that it'll hurt more to NOT reach out than to reach out and perhaps be rejected. You'll never know until you try!

How Much Does it Cost to Run a Site About Family Fun?

Before they came together to form FFTC, Joy used to do only activities that were free because her site was FreeFamilyFun. Anne didn't spend her own money all that much either. Gianna just paid for things on her own and wrote about them on her blog.

Once FFTC was formed, though, Gianna felt the weight of not letting the other women down and keeping their budget low. Since the site was so much better with all three of them working on it, she wasn't afraid to reach out and ask to review events or get tickets for free. Gianna approaches businesses with confidence by letting them know what they can offer in terms of a review and site traffic, and she's confident that they'll do an awesome job! Because of this, FFTC has been able to do every activity they've wanted to do for free! She's very grateful for all the businesses that have supported the site - even down to getting the venue and entertainment for the site's Birthday Party for free!

Site Monetization

FFTC is currently working on three forms of monetization.

  1. Ads. They finally put Adsense on their site once they did some research and realized that the ads should mesh well with the focus of their site. They're also working on adding another ad network.
  2. Affiliate Marketing. Gianna would love to set up a hub where people could buy tickets for local events on their site, and FFTC would get a commission. Families already visit their site for the events calendar, so it'd be that much more convenient for them to grab tickets to all their events in one place too.
  3. Sponsors. They're reaching out to more companies and businesses who want to be sponsors and then be included in their posts, on their newsletter, and on their calendar page.

How to Handle Different Goals

The women of FFTC have slightly different goals for the site, but because their big goal is the same, it works out just fine. For example, all three women want the site to be successful and become the one-stop shop for families in the Twin Cities. At a lower level, their goals are a bit different.

Joy views the site as more of a creative venture. She has a full-time job already, so while she would like income from the site, what she needs most is a creative outlet, and FFTC provides that for her.

Gianna and Anne both love working on the site as well, but making an income is a more important goal for them. Even though they've been lucky to get to do so many great, free activities, they'd like a monetary return on their investment of time.

All three women love that the site is able to help families and they get to know new people in the Twin Cities all the time. As it continues to grow, everyone's goals should be met!

Legal Formation

Gianna, Anne, and Joy did not make their partnership official for quite some time. They worked on FFTC for a year before they decided whether or not to make things official and continue on with the site. Once they saw that things were going well and they all wanted to continue, Anne's husband, the business guru of the bunch, set the ladies up as an LLC.

(I just love that these ladies didn't let paperwork and legalities slow them down. They jumped in, gave things a try, and worked out the details later once they knew the venture was a success.)

The ups and downs of growing a blog with a group of people.  (The ups include a whole lot of fun family activities for Gianna!)
Gianna's four adorable kids

Gianna's Adorable Mom moment

Listen to the full episode to hear what Gianna's youngest is doing these days!

Stay in Touch with Gianna!

FamilyFunTwinCities.com

Direct download: Episode208820Gianna20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:30am EDT

3,363 e-book downloads in one day?!  Learn step by step how to make your e-book sale go viral - including the secret power of Facebook offers, involving your audience.

Today is an exciting day for us! It’s launch Day of the Brilliant Business Planner! We released our related e-book, Time Management Mama: Making Use of the Margins to Pursue Your Passions, a week earlier in the Amazon kindle store. We tried something a little different on the day we released our kindle book, we offered it for free for one day only. Listen in to hear how that went!

On the Podcast

0:45 – Why we needed a planner to track our personal and business life
2:40 – Launching our e-book in the Amazon kindle store
3:14 – How many free downloads of our book?
3:30 – How Price and Timing factored in
4:30 – Involving our audience
5:30 – Keeping our audience updated
6:54 – Facebook Offers - Why they're so powerful
9:40 – The Role Key Influencers played
11:17 – The Results of  our Free Offer

Why we needed a planner to track our personal and business life

We created a planner in order to have a place to track both our personal lives as well as our business plans and results. Our personal planners were becoming a scribbled mess of business deadlines and future plans. Plus we needed a planner that could help us organize our blog deadlines as well as strategize for our Etsy shop and products.  Our Brilliant Business Planner hits the mark on all accounts because we designed it ourselves!

Launching our e-book in the Amazon kindle store

It was a spur of the moment decision to offer Time Management Mama for free in the Amazon kindle store, but once we made the decision, we just went with it!

How many free downloads of our book?

2,363 people downloaded our book for free! That number exceeded our expectations!  (To give you some context, we had 1,100 Facebook fans when we released our book.)

Top Factors Influencing the Number of Downloads

Price and Timing

The fact that the book was free, and only free for a limited amount of time was obviously a key reason for the number of downloads. The traction would not have been there without the free price tag plus the one day only limited time offer. These factors were highly motivating.  People who liked the book wanted to make sure their friends snagged the deal before it was too late.

Involving our audience

In the course of writing our book, we polled our audience for their best tips and included as many as we could in Time Management Mama. For each tip we included in the book, we linked to the tip giver's website or shop. Our audience felt involved and connected with our book project and wanted to share their name in print with their friends.

Keeping our audience updated

Once we saw that our free book offer was gaining momentum, we kept our audience updated as to how the free day was going. We told them our stats through Facebook posts, Instagram photos and Emails. People were excited with us and continued to share.  We sent one final email at 10 PM on launch day letting everyone know that it might be possible to hit 2,000 downloads!  We thanked them for sharing and once again, got them really excited to see what would happen.

Using a Facebook offer

Beth Anne set up a Facebook offer that really added some traction to our free day. The offer feature is in the same place where you add any Facebook post to your page.

Create your offer, then select the start and end date. The feature allows people to claim the offer. When they claimed the offer, we had it take them to Time Management Mama on Amazon. The claimed offer shows up in your Facebook notifications. If you claim the offer, Facebook will send you an email to remind you to go grab it before it expires!

The Facebook offer reached 5,202 people (we paid $13 to boost the offer), had 59 likes, 47 shares, and 179 people claimed the offer. Our audience really got involved and shared! The social proof factor was also huge – when someone claims an offer, their Facebook friends then see the offer in their newsfeed showing them which of their Facebook friends have also claimed the offer.  When people see a popular offer, they often don't want to miss out.

The Role Key Influencers Played

The day before, we emailed some key influencers and gave them a copy of our PDF book for free. We also mentioned that it would be free in the kindle store the next day if they were interested in reading it in that format. The key influencers were people we had previously interviewed on our podcast, people we wanted to say thank you to. Several of these influencers posted on their blogs that our book was free which we were very appreciative of. Several others shared our news on social media.

Results of the free offer

Some of the long term results of our decision to give Time Management Mama away for free on launch day are yet to be seen. The number of downloads did significantly help our ranking on amazon in the short term, especially in the highly competitive category of time management.

After our free day, Time Management Mama moved to the paid kindle store and our rankings were very good. At one point we were #6 in a time management category and reached #1 in top new releases for time management.

Another great advantage of our free day is that a lot of people have our book in their hands! Our book contains various links back to us and to our Brilliant Business Planner, so the potential for new podcast listeners and planner purchasers is high.

Note:  In order to offer the book for free, we had to be part of KDP select for a 90 day term.  Curious to check out Time Management Mama? You can find it in the kindle store.

Does our planner sound like just what you need to run your home and business? Learn more about our planner here.

What do you think?  Are you ready to rock it in the Kindle store?  What strategies have you used to market your ebook?  

-Sarah and Beth Anne

Direct download: Episode208720Book20and20Planner.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:30am EDT

Are you burned out, overwhelmed, and not sure of where to start or what to do next?  Learn great stress management tips from Kristen Brown.  Learn how to figure out what to focus on next, how to clear your schedule to make time for what matters most, and how to be happy.  Kristen's own story is truly touching.  Hear the full interview at brilliantbusinessmoms.com

Do you need a little encouragement? How about some great advice on going from overwhelmed to figuring out what to prioritize next?Maybe you're stressed because your family isn't on board with your great big dreams.  Whatever the reason for your extra stress and strain, Kristen Brown offers excellent advice on how to manage stress as an entrepreneur. Creator of The Happy Hour EffectKristen Brown is a best-selling author and speaker who walks us through ways to deal with some of the pitfalls we mom entrepreneurs face each day!

On The Podcast

04:08 - Kristen’s bittersweet story
06:10 - What is her business all about?
07:15 - Kristen’s typical day
09:15 - Prioritizing vs. Busy
11:35 - The entrepreneurial mindset
14:48 - How to get loved ones on board
16:44 - Stress management tips
18:21 - Landing guest appearances
21:13 - Becoming a great speaker
22:27 - What does the happy hour effect mean?
26:50 - Power pees
28:17 - Kristen’s first speaking gig
30:41 - Happy hour actually started as a failure
35:00 - A true entrepreneur defined
35:40 - Funny mom moment with Magnum PI!

Kristen’s Bittersweet Story

In 2007, Kristen was unexpectedly widowed. At that time she was in a demanding corporate leadership role, had a 10 month-old baby, and was understandably stressed to the max. It took Kristen a while to figure out her new normal and get re-grounded. She knew she needed to make a change from corporate America, and she realized she needed to do something that made her happy. So in 2009 Kristen made the leap and started The Happy Hour Effect.

What is her business all about?

Kristen is a podcaster, speaker, and best-selling author who helps people stress less and boost results. She helps people make progress on the things that are most important to them. Kristen says there is no point being busy doing things that are not important to you. Her goal is to help people re-shift their life so that the things that are most important to them take top priority.

Kristen’s typical day

The first thing Kristen does each day is to make sure she is focused on the tasks that will bring her business. The majority of her income comes from speaking engagements. So she evaluates each activity by asking “How is this thing going to bring me income?”

As a solo parent and entrepreneur every dollar matters. This isn’t a hobby; it’s a business. (We agree!) Next she moves on to what other people want from her.

Prioritizing vs. Busy

Take a look at your calendar. How many things on your calendar are you doing out of guilt or because people expect you to? Get those things off your calendar. When you say yes to others, you’re saying no to yourself and your family.

Create a life plan. Begin by writing down everything from your calendar and to do list, write it all down so that you can see it all visually. Cross out the things that are not critical to your families’ health, wellness, and happiness.

The entrepreneurial mindset

Entrepreneurs often fall into the trap of thinking, "I have to do everything and be everything." In order to have an entrepreneurial mindset, you need to get your life aligned to your business. To align your life, make sure you have your loved ones on board and have the right support network outside your loved ones. Sometimes loved ones don’t “get” what we are doing, so having people in your life who do “get” what you are doing is so important.

How to get loved ones on board

In order to get loved ones on board with your entrepreneurial dreams, you need to show them how it will benefit them. Show your loved one that what they appreciate about your current life will continue, that you will not neglect your current responsibilities or role in the family. It will also help to get some quick wins to prove that you have a viable business idea. Change can be stressful, so you have to bring them along with you slowly.

Stress management tips

As women we often give to others first and sometimes we forget to do fun stuff for ourselves. Put yourself on your calendar. Pencil in some time that is reserved for you that cannot be booked with someone else’s needs.

Landing guest appearances

Kristen started small when it came to landing television guest appearances. She had to prove that she could entertain a live audience, and started on a small scale initially. She began with her local market, and gradually built up credibility. The small venues were great practice. Kristen also advises us to be ok with being a story teller and ok with sharing your personal story with others. Your personal story differentiates you from others and builds trust.

Becoming a great speaker

Kristen has always been a talker, but she does get nervous before a speaking engagement, and has had to learn to master her mindset and control her nerves. One of the best steps she took to becoming a better speaker was joining the National Speakers Association which has given her the best possible education on becoming a great speaker.

What does the happy hour effect mean?

When you go to happy hour, there is a marked shift in your mindset, you release the stress of the day and you connect with others on a personal level. You also tend to dream big and get creative. The Happy Hour Effect is about weaving that mindset shift into your everyday. It’s about having peace in the midst of trouble and stress. To get to that place mentally, first begin by being aware of what you juggle in the first place. The next step is to know what is sucking your energy and what is making you happy. Be aware of where you are at the current moment instead of always thinking about what’s next. Create mindful moments throughout the day and course correct if you get off track.

Power pees

Kristen recommends having power pees (as in going to the bathroom!). When you are alone in the bathroom, think about, “What is my mood, how do I feel, what do I need to do to get back on track?” It may be the only quiet moment in your day, so take advantage of it!

Kristen’s first speaking gig

Her first speaking gig was at a woman’s expo in a small city next to her hometown. They asked her to do a breakout session, which had about 15 attendees. Kristen began to tell her story and broke down crying. She kept pressing on, and finally got through her talk. Afterwards everyone came up and thanked her for being so honest, and shared their personal stories with her. That was the moment she knew that if she could keep her emotions in check that she wanted to continue speaking in order to help others.

Kristen Brown went from burned out and overwhelmed at a corporate job to a happy, well-balanced entrepreneur.  Host of The Happy Hour Effect , she'll teach you how to manage stress.

Happy hour actually started as a failure!

Kristen’s company actually started out as a health supplement product, but after she had already sunk in lots of money, she realized it required too much funds to move forward! Kristen was left with lots of unusable product and a big business loan with no way to pay it off. This failure was the beginning of The Happy Hour Effect. Slowly it evolved into helping other people manage stress without a health supplement. Kristen firmly believes that right when you are about to give up is when the miracle is about to happen. You never know when your big break will hit. Keep going. It will work, it just may take a few iterations.

A true entrepreneur defined

A true entrepreneur, compared to a hobbyist, is resilient through setbacks and manages to keep on going.  (Amen sister!  We know all of you are true entrepreneurs!  Don't give up!  You've got this!)

Funny mom moment with Magnum PI!

Do you have the visual yet?  (I certainly do!)

Find Kristen

The Happy Hour Effect

Kristen’s Books

The Happy Hour Effect: 12 Tips to Minimize Stress and Maximize Life
The Best Worst Thing

(Note- these are our Amazon affiliate links.)

 

Direct download: Episode208620Kristen20Brown20final_mixdown202.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:30am EDT

Do you have a great big business dream but stress, lack of knowledge, or finances are standing in your way?  Hear from Lakesha Cole.  As a Marine Corps spouse, she grew her online children's boutique successfully during 3 deployments and 3 PCS including one to Japan!  You can absolutely do this.  Click to hear the  full interview.  | brilliantbusinessmoms.com/85

Do you have a great big business idea, but feel too busy or stressed to get started on it? Maybe you're afraid of how much it might cost to get started, and your bank account isn't exactly overflowing! I have a feeling you're about to get that extra boost of encouragement you need to get moving on your big dream! Lakesha Cole is a military spouse who started her business with $500, and grew it through 3 deployments and a move across the world. No - success didn't happen overnight, but with determination, listening and connecting to her customers, and making wise financial decisions, Lakesha now has a successful children's boutique at SheSwank.com.  Learn how to build a boutique as a military spouse, and use that knowledge to build your business no matter what challenges you face!

On the Podcast

02:04 - The Start of a Beautiful Boutique
04:14 - Connecting with Customers
05:18 - Why You Should Sell at Live Events
06:28 - Tips for Attending Trade Shows
08:34 - Start-Up Funds for a Boutique Business
10:40 - Product Photography
11:10 - Subscription Boxes for Girls
12:45 - The Ins and Outs of Selling at a Military Exchange
17:54 - An International Shipping Solution
19:54 - Lessons Learned from Doing Business Overseas
21:23 - The Milspousepreneur Community
23:33 - How She Does It
25:00 - Lakesha's Favorite Business Tool
25:41 - A Feature on the Today Show
26:18 - Winning Military Spouse of the Year
27:11 - Lakesha's Most Important Role
27:59 - 3 Ways to Interact with Customers to Grow Your Business
30:24 - Lakesha's Adorable Mom Moment

Press Play on the Podcast Player below to hear her story. Then, get to work on making your dream a reality!

The Start of a Beautiful Boutique

Years ago, Lakesha pursued a career in journalism. She worked for both local governments and the Federal government as a military spouse whose duty station changed regularly. As a military spouse, it's difficult to keep moving forward with your career. It's not always portable, and Lakesha finally decided that she wanted something that was her own.

She came up with the idea of starting an online boutique about 6 years ago. In 2009, she began her business selling women's apparel. In 2011, with her five year-old daughter as her inspiration, she branched out into children's apparel. She wanted to introduce her daughter to entrepreneurship from an early age, and Kayley is very involved in their business. She helps them choose products, colors, and patterns for the boutique.  After Lakesha created her website in 2009, she started selling to friends and family, and initially her business grew by word of mouth.

Connecting with Customers

With so many online stores to choose from, how did Lakesha set herself apart with SheSwank?

Early on, she says that connecting with her customers was so key. Lakesha used her knowledge of what was trending or popular to connect her customers with something stylish, but also got to know her customers enough to point them to an item that was really just for them. Whether it was a dress for a first birthday party or a special necklace for a military homecoming, that personal touch was so key to growing her business.

Why You Should Sell at Live Events

It might sound counterintuitive to sell at live events if your main business model involves an online boutique, but Lakesha has used craft shows, trade shows, and vendor fairs to continue to connect with customers and conduct market research.

There are 3 great reasons to attend live events, no matter what your revenue source is:

  1. Connect with local customers.
  2. Market Research. Determine what customers want and what's popular. It's so valuable to watch a potential customer look at your entire collection of products and notice what they gravitate towards.
  3. Pricing Research. At live events you have the luxury of finding out why someone didn't buy. Was the price too high? What can the market bear? You may not know whether the style or price is the barrier unless you interact with your customers in person.

Tips for Attending Trade Shows

For anyone who has a business in fashion, apparel, or shoes, Lakesha recommends that you attend the Magic Trade Show in Las Vegas. 

It's the "who's who" of fashion, with everything from the fabric you need to produce product to finished products that you can buy for your shop. All the best designers are there. Even if you're not in a position to buy, it's a great opportunity to network and to see what's trending in your industry. Staying on top of trends is so important for anyone in retail. Did you know that Magic is free to attend if you're a qualified buyer? How cool is that?!

Is it possible to buy in small quantities at such a big trade show?

Lakesha says that purchase requirements really vary from designer to designer. You just have to find the ones who will work with you. She didn't start buying in large quantities until just 2 years ago. She sought indie designers who didn't mind selling smaller quantities to her so she could see if her customer base liked it. Then she would develop a personal agreement of how she would buy in larger quantities from the designer.

Lakesha encourages other new entrepreneurs: "Don't discount yourself as the little man." Take a year to explore and see how these transactions happen and then next year come back with a plan for how you can participate in the buying process.

Start-Up Funds for a Boutique Business

Starting a boutique business from scratch sounds like it could be expensive. Did it take a lot of funds for Lakesha to acquire her first round of inventory?

Lakesha started her business with a $500 investment from her husband's E-6 paycheck. She started small so she could test out her plan before she really invested a ton of money into the idea.

Lakesha purchased her domain name and website template, and hired someone to design the logo. Then she hopped in her car in Oceanside, CA and drove north to the garment district in L.A. She walked the garment district for hours trying to figure out which shop she would buy from and who would allow her to purchase the largest amount of merchandise for the least amount of money.
She went to different show rooms and picked out the merchandise she wanted to start with. She started with just 10 different items and 60 total pieces of merchandise to sell. Once she sold that merchandise she went back for more. Then she gradually built up her inventory.

That initial investment of $500 has paid off in a big way!

Product Photography

Lakesha has some beautiful product photos on her site. She got them in 2 ways:

  1. She takes her own photos and learns as much as she can about product photography
  2. She has great vendors who take great product photos and often share their images with her so she can use them on her site. (What a cool idea! It's a win-win since they know their products will sell so much better if they are represented with excellent photos.)

Subscription Boxes for Girls

How did Lakesha come up with the idea to do a fashion accessory subscription box for girls?
Once again, connecting with her customers was key to growing her business in this way. Lakesha came up with the idea after doing market research with their in-store customers. (SheSwank is a vendor at the Exchange in Okinawa Japan.)

SheSwank customers wanted to buy more accessories at a discounted rate. They wanted more bundle deals. A subscription box allows SheSwank to provide this service while also being a ton of fun and allowing them to reach out to new customers who may only want to shop via mail or who simply can't resist the subscription box model.

Lakesha's 9 year-old daughter came up with the name, and the OMG box was born. It's a curated accessory box for girls, and customers can purchase the box just once or have it delivered to their home monthly. It's fun, catchy, and 2 months in, the subscription box model is doing really well.

Lakesha's daughter says, "It's like it's your birthday every month!"

The Ins and Outs of Selling at a Military Exchange

Lakesha admits that getting approved to sell at a military exchange was quite a lengthy process. SheSwank is a vendor at the Army and Air Force Exchange in Okinawa, Japan.

Before we dig in, here's a little vocab for all of the non-military readers and listeners:

Exchange - A military exchange, whether it's Marine Corps, Air Force, or any branch of service is essentially a department store on the base. Only those individuals with a valid military ID can get into base and shop at the exchange. Some exchanges are huge whereas others are quite small. Lakesha says that the exchange in Okinawa has one main section for all of their regular products (i.e. electronics, home and bath, clothing, and more.) and the vendor area is in a nearby annex.

PCS - Permanent Change of Station. This is when your military man or woman gets orders to report to a different duty station. So it involves moving - sometimes across the country and sometimes across the world.

So how was Lakesha able to sell in the exchange on base?

She got in touch with the exchange about 6 months before PCSing (moving) to Okinawa.  The response from the exchange was a little slow. There are a lot of rules and regulations that come along with a military dependent doing business at the exchange. Currently there are just 3 vendors at the Okinawa exchange who are milspouses.

They each have a short term vendor contract and compete for their space monthly. Lakesha has been selling with the exchange almost 2 years. It's been great for her business, and she's able bring in products that the customers in Okinawa can't get anywhere else. Staffing for a brick and mortar location can be tricky, because as soon as Lakesha gets the perfect employee they get orders to move somewhere else. She has a high rotation rate for this reason.

Does every exchange allow outside vendors to sell there?

No. There tend to be less vendor opportunities on Marine Corps bases and more with either Army or Air Force Exchanges.
Despite the lengthy process and hurdles to sell at the exchange, Lakesha says that is has been crucial to her business growth. When you move overseas there are many restrictions on conducting business such as receiving your good and shipping your goods. Lakesha was faced with the question: Do I completely shut down my business altogether or is there a way I can make this work? Partnering with the exchange was her way of making it work!

An International Shipping Solution

In terms of fulfilling orders within Japan, Lakesha can use FedEx and Japan Post. They are relatively efficient for shipping.
For stateside orders, Lakesha uses an e-fulfillment service to pack and ship orders in the U.S. Did you know that there are companies all over the country whose role is to store your products and ship them for you? It's like a mini distribution center.

How to Find an E-fulfillment Company

Lakesha connected with her business mentor. She reached a point in her business where she had to decide if she'd flatline or if she was going to keep growing. He suggested that she use an e-fulfillment center to streamline her business.  He gave her a few leads, and she did some Google searches. She interviewed 3-4 centers and picked out the one that was going to work best for her business.

Lessons Learned from Doing Business Overseas

Lakesha advises other entrepreneurs who are planning a move overseas to stock up on inventory ahead of time. She didn't realize how restrictive it would be to operate a business in Japan, when in fact, it changed everything.  Looking back, Lakesha can see the positives to her situation because she's gained experience in dealing with customs, importing taxes, and negotiating in different currencies.

The Milspousepreneur Community

When Lakesha moved to Okinawa, she found a lack of community that encouraged entrepreneurs. She missed going to her local chamber events and entrepreneur meet-up groups. She decided that if it didn't exist, she would create that space for herself. The Milspousepreneur Community was born.

Lakesha quickly realized that she wasn't the only entrepreneur who needed a network and help. In their milspousepreneur Facebook group everyone can ask their questions and get feedback and advice from each other. Community is so key when it comes to growing a business!

Lakesha Cole grew an online boutique with just $500.  Learn her tips for connecting with customers so you can do it too.

How She Does It

Lakesha says that she's learned not to beat herself up over not being able to get everything done all the time. "So when people ask me, "How do I balance it all?" Short Answer is: I don't."

She likes to create a schedule that breaks her responsibilities down into different days. In this way, she does what she can when she can. For example, on Monday she may choose to be fully Mom, on Tuesday she may work on her website, and on Wednesday she'll attend networking events.

Lakesha confesses that she used to try to figure out how to get every single thing done every minute of every single day. It's just not possible. She always tells moms, "Cut yourself some slack. Give yourself a break when needed. If you don't finish it today, it will be right there waiting for you tomorrow."

Great advice, Lakesha! None of us can do it all!

Lakesha's Favorite Business Tool

Lakesha loves Evernote. She can type up her notes if she has a blog post in mind. If she's out and about and sees something that inspires her, she takes a picture, writes her notes, and keeps everything in her electronic notebook.

A Feature on the Today Show

Lakesha was invited on the today show with Kathy Lee and Hoda as a result of winning the Milspouse of the year award Sponsored by Armed Forces Insurance.  On the show, she was able to share about life as a military family and also showcase some of the products in her store.

Winning Military Spouse of the Year

Lakesha was nominated for the award by her husband. The nominees go through a selection process that includes a peer-to-peer voting round. Then some of the senior leadership spouses and victory media staff review each nominee. Finally, a board selects the winner.
Lakesha says her husband is super supportive. She would not have been able to accomplish any of this without having him in her corner. He's her biggest cheerleader.

Lakesha's Most Important Role

When we asked Lakesha what accomplishment she's most proud of, she said hands down it's being a mom. She has 2 daughters. Kayley is 9 years old and baby Kirby is 8 months old. She loves being a mom, and being able to fulfill that role the best way she knows how and still be able to pursue her business and dreams. Somehow, it all works together!

3 Ways to Interact with Customers to Grow Your Business

Social media is important for business growth, but what you do when you're on social media can make all the difference. But for Lakesha social media is all about engaging, equipping, and empowering her customers. Forbes magazine recently discussed the importance of engaging with your fans. You need to give your fans the gift of you. Listen to what they're telling you.

  1. Engage. By talking with your fans, and listening to what they have to say.
  2. Equip. Give them an amazing product, incredible service, or be an expert in your field so you equip them with a reason to talk about you!
  3. Empower. Give your customers and fans easy ways to give feedback on your products and services. Also give them easy ways to talk about you and share you with others.

Lakesha loves to connect with her customers on Facebook and Instagram.  (Many retail businesses are finding that Instagram is the key to customer growth these days.)

Lakesha's Adorable Mom Moment

Tune in to hear about a great family moment Lakesha had recently.

Stay in Touch with Lakesha!

SheSwank.com
Facebook: SheSwank
Instagram: @SheSwank

Direct download: Episode208520Lakesha20Cole_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:30am EDT

I've been meaning to get a blog tribe together for a while.  Learning about Chelsea's experience has pushed me over the edge.  Gotta do it!  |  How to Build Your Tribe with Chelsea Coulston  brilliantbusinessmoms.com/84

If you've been online for more than a few seconds, you've probably heard the phrase "build your tribe".  These days, it seems like everyone is talking about it.  Last summer, Beachbody fitness pro Chalene Johnson even started a podcast around the topic!  But what does it really mean?  (Prior to talking to Chelsea, I would have assumed that eating yak butter and going to a Crossfit gym were part of the package ... I couldn't have been more wrong!)  Building your tribe is all about finding like-minded people who will support you in your business while you support them in theirs.

So how do you create an incredible community of women who will encourage you and help you to grow?  What do you do once you've assembled?  How can you really leverage the strengths that you each bring to the table?

After listening to our interview with Chelsea Coulston of MakingHomeBase.com, I hope you'll take a deep breath and realize that building your tribe is much easier and more enjoyable than you  might have guessed.  You can aboslutely do this!  And your business is counting on you to take the next step.

On the Podcast

01:44 - How a Boat + a Baby Led to a Blog
03:38 - How to Build Your Tribe
06:59 - How to Structure your Tribe
08:23 - The Perfect Number for a Thriving Community
09:44 - Why Varying Strengths = Success
11:42 - Zero Deadbeats?!  What's Their Secret?
14:12 - How to Connect with your People
16:05 - Tribe-Building Tips
17:55 - So Many Ways to Collaborate
19:34 - 3 Great Tools for Online Business
21:08 - The Never-Ending Struggle for Balance!
22:42 - 2 Important Ways to Connect and Grow
23:47 - Chelsea's Adorable Mom Moment

Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to Hear the Full Interview

 

How a Boat + a Baby Led to a Blog

When Chelsea and her Navy husband moved to San Diego in 2012, their daughter Peyton was just 6 weeks old.  A week after moving in, Chelsea's husband was underway on his new ship.  So with a new house, a new baby, and no one around to lend support, Chelsea made it her mission to turn her house into a home base for her family.  Her blog, MakingHomeBase.com was born.

As a military family who's gearing up for their 6th move in recent years, Chelsea struggles to find ways to make their rentals feel homey.  When you get lost in the world of Pinterest and blogs, it's easy to get discouraged because there are so many great projects and beautiful ideas that you wish you could implement in your own home.

Chelsea's mission to turn even the most temporary living space into a beautiful home has helped so many other people who are in the same situation.  She gets emails all the time from folks who move a lot or have to live in a rental for one reason or another, and they're so thankful to have ideas that work for their specific situations.

How to Build Your Tribe

As Chelsea started learning how to grow her blog, she started watching Google hangouts with Becky Farrant of InfarrantlyCreative.net

Becky shared about how crucial tribes were to her success online.  A year after blogging, Chelsea reached out to a blogging friend of hers - April Hoff of HousebyHoff.com.  They started an annual event called their summer celebration, and right after that Chelsea asked if April would be interested in "going in with her" on creating a tribe.

April and Chelsea both reached out to 3 other bloggers each to see if they'd be interested.  Every single one of them said yes, so they hopped on Facebook and created their little tribe of 8 bloggers.

Were they all friends ahead of time?

Nope!  A few of the bloggers were women that Chelsea or April had collaborated with before, but many were just people that they admired and wanted to connect with.

Chelsea recommends reaching out to someone who's audience size is similar to yours, but other than that, just pick women who do work that you admire.  Pick someone who may bring different strengths to the table.

How to Structure your Tribe

Chelsea's tribe keeps the structure really relaxed.  Since it's small, and they all admire each other's work, there's genuine connection that happens in the group.  They help each other, collaborate, and give advice.

Other than the more organic ways that they support each other, each week someone in the group starts a few quick threads for social sharing.  They create one thread for Google+, one for Facebook, one for Pinterest, etc.  Everyone shares links on that thread for what they're doing that week, and as the week goes on they share each other's content on social media to help promote one another.  Once you schedule out those posts to share, just hit the like button for that comment on the thread to show that you've shared or scheduled the post.

Chelsea says this method is a great way to share excellent content other than you're own, and since the group is small and selective, everyone in it puts out phenomenal content.  You never have to worry about what you're sharing with your readers.

If you miss a week of sharing or promoting others' content, it's not a big deal.  No one in the group is there to police the others.

The Perfect Number for a Thriving Community

While the group started out with 8 women, they now have 12 members. Chelsea feels that if the group were any bigger than 12, it would be hard to keep up with the promoting.  10 was also a great number for a group, especially for collaborations.  Now, though, with 12, they can still do a great group project even if a few ladies aren't available to participate.

How do you decide who gets in?

As the tribe has grown, they all make the decision to add new members together.  Someone in the group will say, "hey do you know this lady from this site, she's awesome, what do you think about adding her to the group?" Then they all decide, "yes she's great - bring her in."

Again, making decisions as a group and keeping the group small has helped to ensure that every member is an excellent blogger and puts out content that they all feel good about sharing.

Why Varying Strengths = Success

Chelsea shared that this particular group of women is her very favorite group that she's ever been a part of.  Each person is an expert in their own right, so there's always someone who has an answer to your question.

Some women are awesome at e-books.  Others are great at storytelling and building their brand.  And Chelsea shares that one blogger is simply fantastic at photos and always shares what lens she's using and what techniques work best for her.

There are so many little decisions that come up in blogging such as "how much should I charge for this?" or "should I really have a media kit?"  The other women are there to lend their experience and expertise to help the others.

Through their incredible group, these twelve women have become true friends.  Half of them attended the Haven Conference last year, and they hung out with each other virtually the whole time!  It's been incredible for them to take the relationships offline.

Zero Deadbeats?!  What's Their Secret?

Sarah and I were both curious about how to handle things if one member of the group wasn't pulling their weight.  We were surprised when Chelsea shared that this has never been a problem in their tight-knit group.  So what's their secret?

The group is very relaxed.  The expectations aren't super high for each person. It's a very positive, supportive group, and they have the mentality of, "if you need us, we're here."

Most of  the tribe members are moms, and they each have peaks and valleys in their lives.  They all completely understand if someone has to step away from blogging or the group for a bit.  They don't look at the group in terms of being incredibly strict and, "what are you doing for me lately" kind of mentality.

Chelsea has been part of other communities that were there strictly for promoting each others' content.  Sometimes it's just too difficult to keep up.

Chelsea's advice if you're feeling overwhelmed with a particular tribe is to just be upfront and honest and say, "I really like you guys but I can't keep up with the promoting" and you can just politely exit from the group.  "Not every group will be the right fit for you."

How to Connect with your People

Facebook is the primary way that Chelsea connects with her 12-person tribe.  It's just easier to ask questions and keep the conversation going in a private group there.

However, she's also part of a smaller group with only 3 people, and they do Google Hangouts quite often.  They decide on a topic for the week such as affiliate sales, photography, or monetizing their sites.  Then they each bring notes and questions to the hangout to discuss.  A lot more information can get passed through conversation in a hangout.

Finally, Chelsea was able to connect with some of her people at conferences.  It's so fun to be able to meet blogging friends in real life and talk about what's going on with their kids, their lives, and build that friendship offline.

Build your Tribe:  Chelsea follows Chalene Johnson's advice to grow her business online.  |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com/84

Tribe-Building Tips

What are best ways to build your tribe?  Chelsea shares 4 great tips.

  • Find people you admire.  Find those women who are in the same niche, perhaps, but don't do things exactly like you do.  Find women who continuously put out great content that you'd have no problem sharing or promoting.
  • Find people who different skill sets and strengths.  If you're awesome at email marketing, you may want to find someone who's great at photography, or someone else who's an amazing writer.  You will learn so much more by finding women with varying strengths and skills to bring to the table.
  • Look for Similar Size.  Chelsea recommends that you pick people who are about the same size as you.  Everyone should be able to pull their weight and bring something to the table
  • Step outside your comfort zone.  There are awesome bloggers you're not working with at the moment.  Just introduce yourself and say "Hey I think you're great.  I've been reading your blog for a while and I really admire what you're doing.  Would you be interested in joining in my tribe so we can work together?  I can learn a lot from you."

Chelsea says that "everyone loves to have a group and belong somewhere."  (So true!)

So Many Ways to Collaborate

Chelsea's tribe works together in so many ways.  Below are just a few examples.  Hopefully they'll get you thinking about the ways that you and your tribe can grow together!

  • Group Home Tours and Online Events.  Chelsea's tribe teams up each spring to do a spring home tour.  They link back to each other's blogs, so they each see a huge boost in visitors from working together.  Plus their readers are way more excited to see 10 or 12 great homes instead of just 1.
  • Group Giveaways. It's easy to pull together for a big prize when there are 10 or more bloggers involved, plus the word spreads much faster.
  • Promote New Products.  If someone in the group creates a new product, the rest of the tribe cheers them on, shouts it from the mountains, and even lets that person take over their blog for a day to get the word out.
  • Share Important Sponsored Content.  The same is true for important sponsored content.  They want that blogger to be successful so the tribe does whatever they can to promote their work.

When you create a tribe built on genuine friendship and connection, everyone is happy for what everyone else is doing.  The promotion and cheering each other on just comes naturally!

3 Great Tools for Online Business

  1. MailChimp.  For growing her email list and connecting with her readers.
  2. Fizzle.co.  Abby of JustaGirlandHerBlog.com first told Chelsea about Fizzle, and she likes to watch their videos and get good business advice from them.
  3. Elite Blogging Academy.  Chelsea says that Ruth Soukup's flagship program has some good resources as well.  (Grab more blogging advice from Ruth here.)

Blogging could be a 24 hr per day job if you allow it to be. Chelsea thinks that if she had more tools she might spend too much time on her site!

The Never-Ending Struggle for Balance

Chelsea confesses that balance is always a work in progress in her house.  (We hear you, sister!)

Chelsea often has days when she's up until 1 AM writing blog posts.  She wishes she could be someone who has blog posts scheduled out weeks in advance so she'd feel on top of things but she tends to fly by the seat of her pants.  She thinks to herself, "One day when Peyton is in preschool I'll be on top of things," but in reality, she's not sure that will ever happen for her!

Sometimes she comes up with a great idea for a blog post at 5 PM, so she's scrambling to find some kind of sunlight to take a photo so she can get her post up the next day.  That's reality for Chelsea!  (Well, clearly it still works, because Chelsea's blog is fantastic!  No need to feel guilty for letting inspiration guide you.)

2 Important Ways to Connect and Grow

  1. Collaborate with other bloggers. Chelsea says that genuine relationships really help you to grow your blog. When it comes to building relationships, it's not about leaving a comment that says, "hey come back and read my blog." It's about getting to know them, and then when they see your post on Facebook they're thinking, "Hey that's Chelsea.  I know her. I want to share her great project."  When you build relationships, you ultimately build your readership because a chain of new eyeballs start to see your stuff.
  2. Grow your email list. Again, that email list truly comes back to relationships. It's important to build a relationship with your readers and have a consistent way to stay in touch.  Building your email list allows you to do that.

Community makes the difference in the online world.  Learn how to build your tribe from Chelsea Coulston of MakingHomeBase

Chelsea's Adorable Mom Moment

Chelsea's almost-3-year-old Peyton said the sweetest thing to her the other day!  You'll have to tune in to hear her cute story.

Stay in Touch with Chelsea!

MakingHomeBase.com

Instagram: @MakingHomeBase

 

Our affiliate link for Fizzle.  It's one of our favorite online resources for business too!

Direct download: Episode208420Chelsea_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:30am EDT

Mompreneur Kat Simpson has been selling on E-bay for 18 years, and she contends that it's a great place to cut your teeth in the e-commerce space.  Learn Kat's best tips on How to Grow a Business on Ebay | brilliantbusinessmoms.com

A business you can run from home and immediately turn a profit? Sounds like a dream come true! If you want to provide an income for your family, from the comfort of your home, ecommerce might be the right step for you. But how do you begin to learn the ropes of ecommerce? As someone with 18 years of experience in e-commerce, Kat Simpson believes that EBay is the perfect stepping stone for learning how to effectively sell online.

On the Podcast

02:07 – The Business of Beanie Babies
02:44 – A Business Model that Fits Your Schedule
03:25 – A Podcasting Interruption
04:38 – Is Just Listing Items Enough?
06:34 – Strategies to Get Found
08:08 – Finding Products to Sell
09:45 – The Benefits of Ebay
13:50 – Profit Margin
15:55 – Buy It Now
16:54 – Beyond EBay Marketing
21:00 – Earning Loyal Customers
22:50 – Kat's $6,000 Mistake
25:55 – EBay vs. Amazon
28:45 – Helping Moms Earn a Living from Home
29:45 – 3 Must-Haves for Business
32:20 – Kat's Adorable Grandma Moment

Press Play on the Podcast Player below to hear Kat’s episode

The Business of Beanie Babies

When Beanie Babies were all the rage, Kat saw an opportunity to make some money on the side for her family. Thus began her almost 20 years of ecommerce experience.

A Business Model that Fits your Schedule

EBay is a great platform for military spouses who have to pick up and move. Kat began selling second- hand items she had at home or picked up at yard sales. The advantage of EBay is that it’s super flexible. You can work on it for a bit, put it on pause, and come back to it when you are ready. That was just the type of business Kat needed for that time in her life.

A Podcasting Interruption

In real life, our podcast is full of interruptions since we always have kids at home when we record our episodes. Thankfully, Kat loves the interruption! She loves helping moms succeed in business in order to stay home with their kids if that's their desire. Kat loved being able to sell on EBay when her kids were little, because the flexibility was wonderful.

Is Just Listing Items Enough?

Kat started selling on EBay in 1997 and a lot of things have changed over the years. You used to be able to get sales by simply listing your items. Now, you can’t depend on EBay alone to bring you traffic. There are several reasons for this.
Google and EBay are not getting along
EBay has a new search engine that is not very “smart” which makes it more difficult for items to be found on EBay.

Strategies to Get Found

The best way to get found on EBay is to have a niche store where you can sell a large quantity of the same item and cater to a specific type of person. Determine your ideal customer and build your store around that customer. It is much easier to market a store that is cohesive and caters to the same type of customer. You can advertise and be present in the same places where your ideal customer hangs out online.

Finding Products to Sell

This is the number one question that people ask, but Kat says this is actually the least of your worries. Finding things to sell is easy. Kat buys a lot of wholesale and liquidations. Everyday wholesalers contact her wanting her to buy their items. The tricky part is determining which items will be profitable.

The Benefits of Ebay

Many people don't realize that Ebay has many great features that make it easy for a shop owner to get started online. For $15 a month you get a website on EBay with 300 pages and a suite of tools to help with marketing. Your EBay store has built in SEO options, and you can even change the SEO keywords for each page of your store. EBay provides a newsletter that you can use to market your products.
Kat encourages sellers to use all the free marketing tools EBay has to offer: the newsletter, flyers, about me page, links to social media profiles, and more. EBay also provides traffic reports, store reports, keyword reports, and more to help you make great business decisions.

Profit Margin

Since EBay has a very confusing fee structure, it can be difficult to figure out if you are actually making a profit. The general rule of thumb is that you will pay 20-25% of the sales price to PayPal and EBay in fees. For more expensive items, the fee percentage will be less. Kat recommends that new sellers shop around their house first for items they can list on EBay. These are zero cost items that help you learn the photography process, the listing process, the selling process, and the shipping process, all without having tons of money at stake.

Next try other low cost items you find at thrift stores and garage sales. Kat recommends that you use these zero and low cost items to learn the ropes. Learn how to sell on EBay before you plunk down $500 to a wholesaler and large amounts of money are on the line.

Buy It Now

Kat recommends using the Buy It Now feature on EBay as opposed to the auction method. Combine the Buy It Now feature with the Best Offer feature so that people can offer you a price that you can choose to either accept or decline.

Beyond EBay Marketing

Kat recommends finding out where your customers are hanging out on social media and head there. You could spend hours on social media, so set a timer so you have a limit each day.

YouTube can be a powerful marketing tool for EBay. Use YouTube videos to show that your product works, to demonstrate its operation, or to show off product features. You can embed the video right into your product listing so every person who looks at your listing immediately sees the video explaining your product features and benefits. Kat had a vintage Biff the Bear video that she created in 2008 to show that the Bear still talked. That video has since gotten 50,000 views, and continues to drive traffic to her EBay store long after the actual bear was sold!

Earning Loyal Customers

People buy from sellers they know, like, and trust, so cultivate a relationship with your customers. Kat recommends packaging items to look like a gift and include a freebie in the package to wow them. Getting your customers on your email newsletter is critical. When you communicate with them via your newsletter, make sure it's not about you. It should be all about them!

Kat's $6,000 Mistake

When the Beanie Baby craze was in full swing, Kat was buying and selling Beanie Babies and couldn’t keep them in stock fast enough. She kept putting her money back into more Beanie Babies. What she didn’t realize is that she was dealing with a fad. When the fad died and Beanie Babies stopped selling, Kat was left with $6,000 in Beanie Baby inventory that she couldn’t unload. Her advice?  Know when you are selling a fad, and get out.
New EBay sellers need to be careful and make sure they are actually making money. They see the money go into their account, but they forget about all the little expenses going out. In order to succeed, make sure you know the cost of everything so you can ensure that you're truly making money.

EBay vs. Amazon

There are a lot of advantages to selling on Amazon:

  • Fulfillment by Amazon makes shipping easy
  • Amazon has a much larger audience
  • Amazon customers buy a lot more than EBay customers
  • Sales are bigger on Amazon
  • The Profit margin is bigger
  • Customers require less maintenance on Amazon

However, E-bay still offers a few advantages, and it's a great place to learn e-commerce skills.  Kat maintains accounts on both EBay and Amazon. EBay lets you build your own business, brand, and customer base. On Amazon you are nothing but an Amazon order filler. Amazon is not a customer acquisition channel. Most of the people who buy on Amazon, don’t even realize they are buying from a person. If you want to have your own long term business and brand, go with EBay. For fast cash without long-term goals, go with Amazon.

Helping Moms Earn a Living From Home

Kat feels called to help moms who want to support their families and stay home if they choose. Her site ThatKat.com has Webinars, a weekly radio show, sales tax help, and much more. Kat is clearly a seasoned, E-commerce expert and has lots of great advice to offer!

3 Must-Haves for Business

  • Google. Kat loves Google. (Who doesn’t?) Google Drive and other tools allow Kat to work with her team seamlessly.
  • Asana. Kat uses Asana for project management which allows you to organize a project into steps and assign people to each task. Asana is free!
  • Virtual Assistants. Behind the scenes Kat has many people helping her with things like audio editing, social media, photography, and listings. She employs an executive VA and has a lot of resources on her website about hiring a Virtual Assistant.

Kat's Adorable Grandma Moment

Kat shares a bittersweet moment with her grandson who loves his Nona!

Find Kat Online!

ThatKat.com

Direct download: Episode208320Kat20Simpson_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:30am EDT

Why Strategy Makes the Difference

Do you ever feel like that hobby blog of yours... the one you've had for years - the one that's never really taken off like you planned - will never become the business you're dreaming of? Cassie Howard chats with us on the podcast today to dispel that myth. It's absolutely possible to turn that hobby blog into a business with a plan and a strategy.

Hear Cassie's story, learn her favorite books and tools for getting ahead, and get to work turning that hobby into a business. You can do it!

Hear Cassie Howard's story of turning a frugal living hobby blog into a full-time, 6-figure business.  Learn Why Strategy Makes the difference with Cassie Howard, and start implementing strategies to grow your own blog!  |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com

On the Podcast

01:29 - From Online Diary to Frugal Living Guide
03:07 - How to Monetize a Blog
05:14 - More Traffic or More Products (which one matters most?)
07:02 - 2 Strategies to Grow your Traffic
07:55- SEO Tips for Mom Bloggers
11:41 - How to Find and Keep Great Staff
12:42 - A Timeline for Blog Growth
14:08 - A Typical Day for a Full-time Blogger
16:04 - Helping Moms do Work they Love
20:52 - 4 Great Resources to Keep your Biz Going Strong
22:07 - The One Thing Cassie is Most Proud of
22:55 - 3 Books that will Change your Business
24:06 - A Funny Mom Moment aka Mornings are Rough!

Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to Hear Cassie's Interview

From Online Diary to Frugal Living Guide

Cassie started her blog in 2007 when it was just she and her husband. It was more of an online diary where she would write about what she did that day.... "boring stuff" as Cassie says. Having grown up in a very frugal family, Cassie was into couponing and saving money. As she began to blog about couponing and how she was able to save 50-90% off of retail prices, her readers wanted to know how she did it.

Her site, MrsJanuary.com morphed from a personal diary into a complete focus on frugal living. Cassie's site is one of the top frugal living sites for Canadians.

How to Monetize a Blog

Cassie's blog was just a hobby for many years. Although she was helping many Canadians to live more frugally, she didn't have a strategy for turning her blog into a business. She made a couple hundred bucks a month on her site, but for all of the hours she put into it, that low income wasn't worth it.

When Cassie decided it was time to get serious about her blog, the first thing she did was look at other sites in her niche to see how they were monetizing. From there, Cassie tried similar strategies on MrsJanuary.com

What strategies did Cassie try?

  • Ad networks
  • E-books
  • Private ads
  • Affiliate sales

After trying things out, Cassie got rid of what didn't work or what felt too salesy and kept what was workingto bring in more income while letting her stay true to her vision for the site.

What income strategies worked?

Ebooks, private services for her readers such as coupon classes and coaching, and sidebar ads are monetization strategies that have worked well for Cassie.

After Cassie tested different strategies and homed in on what was working, she immersed herself in learning everything she could about those monetization strategies, to truly make the most of them.

In a few years' worth of effort, Cassie grew her site from a few hudred dollars a month in income to 10-15,000 dollars a month of income... and that number continues to grow.

More Traffic or More Products ?

For MrsJanuary.com, traffic has played the largest role in increasing her income. Obviously, more visitors allow for higher ad rates, and more potential customers for her products.

However, Cassie says that creating and selling her own products has played a huge role in her business as well. She gets to control the price and the marketing efforts she puts into place for those products, and you don't get that level of control with something like sponsored posts.

Which Products did Cassie Add?

  • 1 on 1 couponing classes.
  • E-books
  • An online course that teaches moms how to create an online business through blogging

In growing her blog and business, Cassie had to keep her target audience in mind. Her blog readers are frugal-minded, so she knew they wouldn't spend a lot of money on a fancy product. She's kept things simple for them, but has since branched out with CassieHoward.com to offer higher-end products and services to women who are looking for that.

2 Strategies to Grow your Traffic

Cassie has used two key strategies to grow her blog traffic, and therefore, earn more money online.

  1. SEO. Cassie admits that it took her a long time to learn how to do SEO for her blog properly but once she did, she saw a dramatic increase in traffic. Learn more about SEO for your blog.
  2. Pinterest. Once Cassie dug into Pinterest, she found that she could drive far more traffic from this site compared to search engines, so her focus has switched a bit to ensure she makes the most of this site. Grab a comprehensive list of the best Pinterest tips on the web.  Pinterest takes strategy and practice to do well.

SEO Tips for Mom Bloggers

Cassie shared 4 great tips for improving your On-Site SEO for your blog.

  1. Image Name. Many people forget that the name they give their image is super important. That image name is what will help you to get found in Google Image Search, so you should name that image whatever your target keyword phrase is. In addition, that image name shows up on your blog as well - it's hidden behind html code, but it's what website crawlers see rather than the image itself.
  2. Blog Post Title. Give your blog post the same exact title as that long-tail keyword phrase you're trying to target.
  3. Content. Be sure to sprinkle your target keyword phrase 1-3 times throughout your post. Make it sound natural, and use related keywords as well so the language is not stiff and robotic.
  4. Long-Tail Keyword Phrases. When you're creating content, it's much easier to rank higher in search engine results if you focus on long-tail keyword phrases.

What is a Long-Tail Keyword Phrase?
This simply means using multiple keywords as your target phrase versus just one word. For example, don't focus on "coupons" focus instead on "canadian couponing tips" Using specific keyword phrases means you'll face less competition, rank higher more easily, and you'll get specific, targeted traffic to your site

How to Find and Keep Great Staff

Cassie admits that she didn't start out hiring the right way. She put out a call on her website announcing that they were hiring. Now, though, Cassie recommends going through a site such as Elance.com. You can find people there with a wide range of expertise who can help you at reasonable prices.

(Cassie's tips on hiring are quite different from Tiffany Romero's.  Thoughts?)

A Timeline for Blog Growth

  • 2007-2011. No strategy. Cassie blogged consistently about couponing and saving money, but there was no intention with turning her sit into a business.
  • 2011-2012. The Learning and Implementation Phase. Something clicked with Cassie, and she decided she had to turn her site into a business. This year, she learned everything she could about monetizing her site and began trying out new strategies.
  • 2012-2013. Real Income! Cassie made about $30,000 from her site this year.
  • 2013-2014. A Booming Business. Cassie made six figures with her blog this year, and her income continues to grow every month.

Cassie encourages other women saying, "it doesn't have to take a million years to grow a blog, you can do it in just a few years if you focus and have a clear strategy in place."

A Typical Day for a Full-time Blogger

Cassie starts her days at 4:30 AM. She loves to have at least two hours without the kids up to just enjoy the quiet and having zero distractions. Cassie also does her best work early in the morning. She's most focused and efficient at this time.

She writes her to-do-list the night before so she can dive right in when she wakes up. Cassie usually starts with email. (Yes, she knows that goes against typical advice on productivity, but hey, the most important part of productivity is doing whatever makes you most productive.) Cassie checks to see if there's anything from her team that she needs to address.

Then Cassie moves on to writing blog posts. Finally she does marketing for her new site, CassieHoward.com. By 6:30 AM, Cassie has two hours of "mom mode". She's getting her kids ready for school, feeding breakfast, and cleaning things up.

Once the kids are off to school and daycare, Cassie does calls with clients, interacts with her team for MrsJanuary.com, and does more social media marketing.

Cassie generally ends her day at 3:00 when she goes to pick her son up from school. From there, it's 100% family time until 4:30 the next morning.

Helping Moms do Work they Love

In 2015, Cassie created a new website to help stay-at-home moms learn how to create successful blogs. She has a 4-month program that teaches them how to build a blog from the ground up or how to grow their current blog so they can make at least $30,000 a year

Cassie believes that if women put in the effort and use the strategies she gives them, there's no reason they can't make money with their blogs. She's so passionate about helping other moms live the lives they want, stay home with their kids, and do work that they love.

Cassie has enjoyed the success that comes along with having a big blog, both the financial aspects and the freedome she has, and she wants other moms to enjoy that success too.

4 Great Resources to Keep your Biz Going Strong

  1. Skype. Cassie uses this on a regular basis for client calls. (and for chatting with podcasters, of course!)
  2. Canva.com
  3. Picmonkey.com Both of these sites are fabulous for photo editing, and they help Cassie to create beautiful, Pinterest-friendly images.
  4. Graphic Designer. Cassie uses a guy named Greg from 99Designs.com She's found that having a close relationship with your graphic designer will really go a long way towards marketing your brand and yourself effectively. (We agree! KatySarah, and Hadassah have all been key in helping us to grow our business.)

The One Thing Cassie is Most Proud of

Cassie is most proud of the group coaching program she started this year. It was a random idea, but when Cassie asked her audience what they thought, they loved it!

Cassie has assembled a small group of women who connect on a regular basis. They help each other to brainstorm ideas for building their businesses, and they are just all around, a great group of women.

3 Books that will Change your Business

  1.  The Science of Getting Rich. Cassie admits that it's a corny title, and at first glance, the advice sounds way too good to be true but when she put the principles from the book into play, it made a difference in her life and business . (Note - these are affiliate links)
  2. The 40-hour Workweek. Cassie found this Tim Ferriss classic helpful for reducing her to-do list and focusing only on what matters most.
  3. Onward by Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks. This book outlines how Howard Schultz brought back the culture and brand of Starbucks, and Cassie says that it's helped her to build an amazing team for her business.

A Funny Mom Moment

You'll be cracking up when you hear what Cassie's sassy daughter said to her the morning of the podcast!

Stay in Touch with Cassie!

For couponing and frugal living tips: MrsJanuary.com
For coaching: CassieHoward.com

Direct download: Episode208220Cassie20Howard_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:30am EDT

Land Wholesale Accounts & Get More Press

Would you like to have your products featured in a national magazine? What about features in over 200 publications and TV shows? Andreea Ayers did just that with her Tees for Change business, along with selling over 20,000 units.

A move across the country, a baby on the way, and dreams of having her own business pushed Andreea to go for it and work like crazy to grow her brand. Hear her best advice on getting started, earning loads of wholesale accounts, and gaining massive PR for her business.

Love the tips on getting featured in magazines and getting national exposure.  Andreea Ayers knows her stuff!  She also grew a wholesale business with one weekend of hustle.... wow, impressed!  | brilliantbusinessmoms.com/81

On the Podcast

01:28 - From Pregnant and Jobless to Brand New Mompreneur
06:53 - How to Use a Manufacturer to Make Custom Designs
09:45 - How to Kill it with Wholesale Orders
12:36 - Start-Up Costs for a T-Shirt Business
15:37 - Shipping & Logistics for a Product-Based Business
18:02 - PR Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them
21:40 - Get Your Products Featured in National Magazines
26:34 - Sales Breakdown for a Product-Based Business
27: 19 - 4 Tips for Growing an Online Business
34:14 - How to Scale a Handmade Business
39:55 - How to Get More Traffic
42:35 - Andreea's Littlest Entrepreneur

Press Play on the Podcast Player below to hear the full story.

 

From Pregnant & Jobless to Mompreneur

At 5 months' pregnant with a recent move from New York City to Colorado, Andreea struggled to find a job in her chosen field of marketing. She thought about what she loved to do and the kind of business she'd be passionate about running. With a love for inspirational quotes and all things eco-friendly, Andreea settled on an inspirational, eco-friendly t-shirt line.

Now a mom to three kids ages 3, 5, and 7 years old, Andreea launched her first business just one month before her first child was born. Entrepreneurship and motherhood have always gone hand in hand for Andreea!

Andreea took 3 main steps to launch her first business - Tees for Change:

  1. Order t-shirt samples from manufacturers to nail down style, size, and eco-friendly materials.
  2. Researched screen printers to put her designs on the t-shirts. Andreea was lucky to find a great screen printer in her home state of Colorado.
  3. Built a website so she could sell her shirts online.

How to Manufacture a Custom Design

When Andreea started her business in 2006, it was much more difficult to find organic and eco-friendly t-shirts. Many brands were just starting to explore the industry, so they'd have only a very basic black or white t-shirt with an unsophisticated fit.

Andreea did a lot of research as well as asking others in the industry, and ultimately she found several companies who could supply eco-friendly t-shirts. There wasn't a clear winner among her options, so for the first few years of year business, Andreea tried several different brands to see what sold best.
After testing the market and having confidence in what her customers wanted, Andreea had her own t-shirts custom-made.

There are two options for having your product custom-made by a manufacturer:

  1. Hire a pattern designer to sketch out and design the exact product you want, then bring that to your chosen factory for production.
  2. Work directly with the factory to modify an existing style.

Andreea used option two. She worked with the factory where she was already buying pre-made t-shirts, and took an existing style that sold well and had it made in custom colors. Those custom colors weren't being sold to other companies or retailers, so Andreea had an advantage.

Although the thought of using a pattern designer felt overwhelming to Andreea several years ago, she told us that in many cases today, factories have someone on staff who functions as a pattern designer. (Creating your dream product keeps getting easier and easier!)

How to Kill it with Wholesale Orders

Fairly quickly after launching her Tees for Change website, Andreea started reaching out to retailers to get her shirts into stores. She brainstormed all the different shops and marketplaces where her t-shirts would be a great fit. She thought about gift shops, organic stores like Whole Foods, but ultimately, she decided that yoga studios would be the perfect fit for her t-shirts. As someone who does yoga herself, Andreea knew what that target market would want, and her inspiring t-shirts with quotes and sayings would pair perfectly with that audience. Andreea focused solely on getting into yoga studios early on.

Andreea spent one weekend doing nothing but researching yoga studios that she could reach out to with her product. She told us that she stopped work only to eat or nurse her son, but by the end of that weekend, she had a spreadsheet with 3,000 yoga studios, and the contact information for the owner or buyer for that studio's boutique.

When Monday came around, Andreea sent out emails to the studios asking if they'd like to carry her shirts while her son was napping. She got a great response right away. The studio would write back and ask "do you have hang tags" and Andreea would panic and ask herself, "what are hang tags?!"

She got a bunch of business cards, thread, and safety pins and printed her first batch of hang tags herself. Looking back, she's a little embarrassed at the quality of that first round of hang-tags, but she was doing everything herself and learning as she went.

When a studio asked for a line sheet or order form, Andreea would say, "oh yes I do have that!" and then she'd Google what that was and put it together on the spot. Within the first month of business Andreea sold out of her first run of t-shirts!

Start-Up Costs

Andreea invested about $1,000 initially to start with 96 different shirts. She knew that if her business didn't work, she could live with losing $1,000.

She played it safe with a small first run, but when all of the yoga studios were interested, and they would ask for 10 or 15 different shirts, she was panicking because she only had 6 of each shirt!

She went back to printer to ramp up production, and with her second run, she got 70-80 shirts in each and every style and size. This time, she was meeting the demand she had created from all of the yoga studios

After that very first run she had enough sales to then only use her business money for the next run. Andreea continued to grow her business by never investing in more money than what she had in that business bank account. She never went into debt. At the time, her husband was in grad school, and she was the only one making money. She didn't have the luxury of taking from their own bank account.

Shipping & Logistics for a Product-Based Business

For the first two years of her business, Andreea was doing all the shipping herself or with her husband's help! She would print out her orders in the morning, put them on her desk and kindly ask her husband if he had time to pack them. Sometimes he did, and sometimes he didn't.

Her t-shirt inventory lived in her son's bedroom in their tiny, 2-bedroom apartment. They had to move his crib into their room and use the nursery as a mini warehouse.

Before he went to class each day, Andreea and her husband would pack up their car with tons of packages for the post office and UPS. Two years into her business Andreea received a huge order from whole foods. She spent a whole week just packing and shipping t-shirts! At that point she knew her solo shipping system had to end.
Andreea interviewed fulfillments houses, found one she liked, and they took over all of her packaging and shipping. No more t-shirt warehouse in the nursery!

PR Pitfalls & How to Avoid Them

After getting featured on a blog whose theme matched perfectly with Andreea's shirts, she realized the power of publicity to grow her brand. Unfortunately, Andreea made a few left turns before figuring out how to leverage PR successfully.

PR Pitfalls to Avoid:

  1. Press Releases. Andreea assumed (as many new business owners do) that press releases are the way you get your products on the eyes of the media. She invested a lot of money into press releases and sending them out, but she saw zero return for her efforts.  (Marketing pro Maggie Patterson hates press releases too!  Hear why.)
  2. PR Firms. A PR firm approached Andreea to represent her brand for a 3 month period. She paid them $2,000/month for 3 months. They did get her a few features but it didn't feel like much compared to the money Andreea was spending.
  3. Relinquishing Control of your Marketing Efforts. When working with a PR firm, Andreea hated that she had no control over the marketing efforts they were making. She had no idea what stories they were pitching and to who. They would only tell her when someone said yes, and then they'd give her a name and address to send out a t-shirt.

Ultimately, Andreea took back control and secured loads of great PR opportunities for her brand.

Get Your Products Featured in National Magazines

Andreea took several steps to finally get Tees for Change the exposure she wanted:

  1. Scout out Your Dream Magazines. Andreea went to Barnes and Noble and picked up the top 10 magazines where she'd love to see her product. (Oprah Magazine was one of them!)
  2. Pitch for a Particular Section or Feature. You need to have a specific plan of where your product fits into that magazine. Is it perfect for a certain holiday gift guide? Does it work for a fresh finds section that happens each month? Perhaps the magazine has a small business or eco-friendly section. Andreea got very specific and researched each magazine to home in on the exact section that fit her t-shirts best.
  3. Find the Right Editor's Contact Info. Once you've settled on your goal feature, you need to figure out who's in charge of that section of the magazine. Use the masthead of magazine where every editor and staff person's name, title, and job is listed. Andreea wrote down those names or took a photo with her phone.
  4. Nail Down an Email. Andreea used a few strategies to get that particular editor's exact email address. She would research online, and once she figured out the company's email format, such as firstname.lastname@oprah.com she could use this to create the email address of her desired editor. Oftentimes, she'd try several different formats until one worked! Andreea would also call the company and simply ask. This method can take a lot of time, but it's perfect for someone on a bootstrap budget.
  5. Invest in a Media Database. If you have the funds, you can invest in a media database where you can simply type in the name of the person you're looking for and immediately find the correct email address and phone number. Everything became much easier once Andreea discovered this tool!
  6. Pitch to Holes in Current Features. Show that you're familiar with the magazine by mentioning other related or complementary products that they've featured. Explain how your product fits a hole within their features. Andreea would say, "I love your magazine. I noticed in your last issue you featured these products in this section. Our t-shirts might be a great fit for this section too."
  7. Research what Works and what Doesn't. Andreea paid attention to what was working in terms of her wording and pitches, and then she adjusted future pitches based on which ones gave her the best response.
  8. Use Editorial Calendars for Perfect Timing. Many magazines are very specific about what products they hunt for at which times of year. The themes of a magazine tend to be the same from year-to-year, so for example, March always features Spring Fashion, April features eco-friendly products for Earth Day, and May focuses on Mother's Day. Use these seasons to your advantage.
  9. Work Well in Advance. Most of the national magazines work at least 3-6 months in advance of their publication date. For example, late June to mid-August is generally the time to submit your products for inclusion in a holiday gift guide. Some publications may look mostly in July, whereas others will stop their search by the end of June. Sometimes Andreea learned timing the hard way by hearing back from a magazine that they loved her t-shirts but closed their gift guide 3 weeks ago. Keep trying, stay ahead of the curve, and write down everything you learn about the timing of each particular magazine.

Sales Breakdown for a Product-Based Business

When Andreea first started and focused on yoga studios, about 85% of her business came through wholesale orders and 15% came through sales on her website.

As Andreea worked hard to get more press and national recognition, her business slowly shifted. By the time she sold Tees for Change 4 years later, 65% of her business was from wholesale orders, and 35% of her sales came through her website.

4 Tips for Growing an Online Business

  1. Storytelling. Andreea learned that as a small retailer, she needed to tell her story so that her customers could relate to her. If customers can relate to you, they're more likely to trust you, like you, and ultimately, buy from you. As a very private person, it was difficult for Andreea to put herself out there in this way. Initially, she had no photos of herself on her site and said very little about who she was. But despite being scared, she took a photo of herself and her son and told the story of being inspired to start the business while in yoga class and the way that her business supports her family.
    Within days Andreea was getting emails from people who told her they could relate to her story, or were so inspired by her that they had to buy a t-shirt. Her customers connected with her and that made a huge difference. Andreea encourages every small business owner to share some photos of themselves and to talk about what inspires them or who they are. It doesn't have to be long, but some personal aspects in your business can go a long way.  (Learn more about story-telling for your brand here.)
  2. Excellent photos. When you're selling online, your photos must look professional. Your customers can't touch the product or try it on, so they need to be able to see it in action or visualize how it might look on them. Initially, Andreea took all of her own photos, but when a magazine needed hi-res photos, she asked a friend to quickly snap some for her. When she saw those photos compared to her own amateur shots, she knew she couldn't look back. She hired her friend to take product photos of her entire t-shirt line.
    Not only did those professional photos earn her more sales, Andreea got more press mentions as well because her photos looked so much better! (Grab product photography tips here.)
  3. Talk about Benefits not Features. When Andreea first launched her site, she talked about how her t-shirts were made with organic cotton in the USA, and went on and on about the great features of the shirts. But ultimately, people don't buy products for the features, they buy them because of how they will make them look or feel, or how they will save them time or money.
    Focus on the benefits of a product for your customers instead of the "nifty features". For example, Andreea started using wording like this in her product descriptions: "When you wear this t-shirt you'll be inspired to do this.... This t-shirt might make you feel this way...."
  4. Use the word "you" versus "I". Again, you need to put yourself in your customer's shoes. How will they feel. How are you helping them. It's not about you and your company, it's about the customer. Andreea used wording such as "You're going to love this" or "You're going to feel great in this" versus saying, "Tees for Change has the highest quality T-shirts." Essentially, your site and product descriptions should feel like you're having a one-on-one conversation with a friend about a product you love - not like a formal door-to-door sales pitch.

How to Scale Handmade Products

While the traditional business world may scoff at the idea of making a handmade business work, Andreea believes that if making and creating are what makes you happy, you should continue to do so. She shared 3 excellent tips for scaling a handmade business.

  1. Batch Tasks. Set aside a distinct day or time when your only job is to make your products. Having a set time to work and set up an assembly line will allow you to get much faster at your craft. (Beth uses the method herself and it allows her to accept very large orders and grow her business.)
  2. Hire Help. If you can't keep up with demand, then look into hiring someone to help you. You could train someone to work part-time perhaps just a few hours per day or one day out of the week. Your products will still be handmade, and if you can keep the integrity and quality of your products high, it's absolutely ok to have a handmade business without your hands touching every single item.
    "When you ask for help and when you invest in other people to help you - that's when you can really scale your business," Andreea says.
  3. Increase your Price. Artists and women in general tend to feel that, "there's no way someone will pay that much...I can't charge that much for my products" but if you want to keep your business going, oftentimes you need to charge more. You may be surprised at what happens.  (Learn more about the psychology of pricing here.)

Andreea first started selling her t-shirts for $28, which already seemed quite high for a t-shirt. It took her a while to be ok with that price. Still, at that price her business wasn't sustainable. She couldn't pay herself or get better photos or other things she needed, so she raised her price to $32.Once she increased her price, her sales increased too! Her customers were buying more and others valued her products more. Raising your price could be the missing link to hiring help and getting all the other tools and support you need to scale your business.

How to Get More Traffic

One of the biggest challenges small business owners face is getting more traffic to their online stores. Then, once they get that increased traffic, they need to know how to convert that traffic into sales and customers.

Andreea is sharing all of her knowledge in three online courses on Creative Live, May 4-6 2015. Grab all the details here.

Andreea's Littlest Entrepreneur

Andreea shared the sweetest story about how her seven year-old son is testing his entrepreneurial skills. He wants to be just like his mom!

Andreea says, "Even when we think our kids aren't watching, they're always learning, watching, and trying to do what we're doing."

Stay in Touch with Andreea!

LaunchGrowJoy.com

If you loved all of Andreea's advice in the podcast, be sure to check out her talk at the Maker Mentor's conference May 14-16th, 2015.  Use our coupon code BBMVIP for $50 off your ticket :)

(This is our affiliate code.  At no additional cost to you - and actually at a steep discount to you - we earn a commission off of your ticket purchase.)

Direct download: Episode208120Andrea20Ayers_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:30am EDT

When you think about your site or business, what's the message you're trying to convey? Telling a compelling story about how you can help your customer is key to connecting with them and earning their business.  Maggie Patterson is a copywriter and communications strategist who can help you do just that. She works hands-on with entrepreneurs to help them market their businesses and meet their goals.  Check out her great advice for mompreneurs at brilliantbusinessmoms.comWhen you think about your site or business, what's the message you're trying to convey? If you think that your message is that you "sell pretty jewelry", then it's time to re-think your marketing strategy! Telling a compelling story about how you can help your customer is key to connecting with them and earning their business.

Maggie Patterson is a copywriter and communications strategist who can help you do just that. She works hands-on with entrepreneurs to help them market their businesses and meet their goals.

Press Play on the Podcast Player below to hear her best advice for telling a compelling story, writing copy that converts, and growing your business.

On the Podcast

02:20 - JUMP!
03:59 - How to Earn Six Figures....without a website!
06:38 - Compelling Communication: How to Nail It
08:02 - Meaningful Stories: Why they can make or break your Biz
11:43 - How to Make your Customer the Hero
13:49 - Copy that Converts
17:56 - How to Get Published on Leading Sites
20:58 - Why Press Releases Stink (and what to do instead!)
23:59 - Business Tools for your Team
25:40 - The Best Way to Grow a Business
28:20 - Doing Business with Canada (what you should know!)
30:00 - 4 Things You Might Not Know About Canadians
32:42 - Maggie's Funny Mom Moment

JUMP!

Ten years ago when Maggie had her son, she decided not to return to her cushy, well-paying job at a PR firm. When her year-long maternity leave was up, she started her own business as a communications consultant. As Maggie says, she just pulled the ripcord and jumped! Almost 10 years later, she's still here!

How to Earn Six Figures

Maggie encourages other entrepreneurs to look past the lure of a shiny new website or all the other things they think they should have and just get to work. Maggie didn't have her own website until 2013 - yet she earned six figures her first full year in business! Clearly, she's doing things right!

Maggie took advantage of two key strategies to grow her business early on.

  1. Management, Business, and Budgeting Skills. With experience in a large PR firm, Maggie wasn't just a pro at copywriting and public relations, she was skilled budgeting, sales, account management, and working with large teams. Maggie handled multi-million dollar accounts before she broke out on her own, and that skill set has served her well in business.  Maggie recommends that if the "business side" of business is not natural to you, make sure you get that experience or find someone who can help with that.
  2. Build a Network and Tell Everyone. Maggie let everyone in her professional circles know that she was branching out. She said, "here's what I'm doing. Let me know if you know anyone who could use my help or services." Maggie scored a couple of financially solid clients from the get-go, and people started saying, "if you don't want to work with an agency at this point, Maggie is your go-to person." Maggie's six-figure business grew through word of mouth or people finding her through professional contacts on LinkedIn.

Compelling Communication - How to Nail It!

As a communications consultant, Maggie focuses on three core things with each of her clients:

  1. Story. The story you tell with your business is so important. You have to nail this down in order to know what to say on social media, your sales page, and in any of the interactions you have with the world.
  2. Content. Once your story is clear, that story needs to be presented in all the types of content your company produces. This could include your website content, blog posts, sales content, your podcast, advertising, and more.
  3. Marketing Methods. How will you put yourself and your message out into the world. Are you going to speak? Are you going to guest post? Perhaps you'll start a podcast. You need to be clear on both the methods of communicating that feel most natural to you and that will be an excellent fit for your business.
    In terms of marketing methods, Maggie helps businesses and entrepreneurs strip away all the "shoulds" and focus on what they really want to do and what will help them grow. "If you try to do all of the marketing things, you will go insane because it's a full-time job in and of itself,"says Maggie

Meaningful Stories

Storytelling isn't just a popular buzzword, it's essential to growing your business and brand. Storytelling works, and science proves it! At the most basic level , storytelling is connecting with your audience in an emotional way. When we appeal to someone's emotions, we activate more parts of their brain versus using logic and facts. As humans, we're wired for emotion, it's a pattern we learn from a young age. The audience you're trying to reach will understand your message much more clearly if you use storytelling and an emotional appeal to reach them.

(Jonah Berger's book, Contagious, gives great examples of scientific and case studies indicating the value of emotion in things catching on.)

There's an important point to remember when it comes to story-telling in business: It's not your story that your audience wants to hear. It's the story about how you deliver your customers results.  For example, you don't need thousands of words on your website about how you quit your job and how fulfilling your current business venture is. You need to figure out the story your customers need to hear to connect with you.

Your customers care about what's in it for them. Your story should indicate how you can help them. If you don't understand your customers and what they need, it will be incredibly difficult to come up with a compelling story to tell.  Your prospective customers don't need an epic Star Wars tale, they need to understand that at the heart of your message, you understand them, and you're here to help.

When Maggie discusses story-telling, she wants to be clear that this doesn't mean being inauthentic. You should be honest when conveying your story.

When you tell an inauthentic story:

  • It's unethical. Please don't spin tales!
  • People have an innate sense when something's not true. So again, you're shooting yourself in the foot. Your dishonesty will shine through.

So tell that story, but make it an authentic one!

How to Make your Customer the Hero

Maggie shared five key points for making your customers the heroes and connecting future customers to your brand.

  1. Testimonial page. While a testimonial page is a great starting point to share customers who are happy with your products or services, this should be the beginning of telling your customers stories. Don't stop here!
  2. Case Studies. Show the before and after story for your customers rather than just their words of praise. Think about weight loss stories and why we find them so appealing. It's so easy to see the huge results that person saw in their life. Do the same with your customer's stories.
  3. Highlight Customers in your Content. Use those case studies and compelling customer stories in your blog posts, podcasts, on social media, and wherever you communicate with your audience. Maggie has included customer stories in her latest email autoresponder sequence. Those potential customers who are considering hiring her are far more compelled when they can see themselves in those customer stories.
  4. Choose the right people. Choose to highlight those happy customers who are most like the other customers you want to attract. Again, they'll see themselves in those happy customers and immediately relate.
  5. Don't be afraid to ask! Your customers love to be featured in your content. Not only do you get the chance to illustrate what you can do, but it makes your customers look good too! Anytime Maggie asks her clients if she can feature them, they're thrilled and ask, "what else can we do?!"

Copy that Converts

Before you even consider the words on the page, you have to be clear on your goal for every website visitor or blog reader. Are you trying to get them on your email list? Do you want them to buy a product? You need to simplify your site so that it's incredibly clear as to what step your visitors should take next. What will move someone from visiting your site once to actually engaging with you and becoming a customer?

How many times have you visited a website and thought, "oh, this is pretty," then you just sort of stumble around. Instead, orient your visitors to your universe. Tell them where to go. If visitors have too many options, they'll suffer from decision fatigue and leave. So, for example, you may tell them, "you can subscribe to my email list or you can see my services," and leave it at that.

Does this apply to the mommy blogger who writes on various topics each week?

YES. If you're a mom blogger your goal may be to have people stay on your site longer. So for each blog post, you want to engage them with another blog post. Or perhaps, your more important goal is to get them to sign up for your email list. So include a way to subscribe at the end of every post, within the post, in your sidebar... wherever you can possibly put it.

Always remember that people are busy. They may think, "oh I'd like to go back to that website but I can't remember what the address is...." but if you've got them on that email list, they'll see the email and click over and come back for a second visit.

How to Get Published on Leading Sites

Maggie's posts have been published on top sites such as the Huffington Post and Duct Tape Marketing. She shared several tips for landing key guest posts.

  • Start blogging on your own blog really consistently. Get comfortable with writing and formatting great content.
  • Start with a friend's blog to get your feet wet.
  • Next, try a larger niche blog.
  • When you're ready to pitch to that large site, you'll have built your confidence and you'll have writing samples to boot!
  • Before you pitch, research the site and get familiar with the content they publish. Find a hole in what they're currently covering.
  • Follow the instructions. Every site will have their own guidelines for guest posting. Follow those to a "t". Some sites will want a completed post while others will simply want an email with a rough outline. 80% of people submitting their content aren't following the rules, so by doing that, you'll stand out immediately.

(For more tips on guest posting, learn from Amy Lynn Andrews here.)

Why Press Releases Stink

Press releases have been around since the 1900's. At this point, they're antiquated and highly ineffective at reaching your target audience. The media are not sitting around poring through press releases saying, "Oh! Awesome!!! They just released the THING!" They don't know who you are. They don't care.

If you're a tiny business or solopreneur, you can connect with the media on twitter, follow them, and share their stuff. Then send a quick email, saying, "hey I noticed you write a lot on this topic. If you ever need a source, I'm happy to help you."

Another point to remember when you're marketing your business? "People are not nearly as excited about your new thing as you are. They're just not. We need to make them trust us and then maybe they'll care a little bit...." says Maggie.

Business Tools for your Team

Basecamp. Maggie and her team use BaseCamp and she believes it's worth every penny for project management. They also use the program for their clients with bigger projects. Basecamp will help your team to organize files and cut down on email chains.

Google. Maggie's team uses Google Drive, Mail, and just about everything Google has to offer! Google Drive makes it incredibly easy to edit and share files in real time. There are no issues with version control that you may get with other file-sharing services. Maggie says that she's so much more productive with Google. She no longer deals with crashes or lost documents.

The Best Way to Grow a Business

Maggie's number one piece of business advice is to remember that your business is always about people. It's easy to get caught up in our list numbers or social media stats. But those aren't numbers or even blog readers and commenters. They're people. Never forget to treat them that way.

If people take the time to comment on her blog, Maggie interacts with them. If someone needs to ask her questions before they purchase a service, she gets on the phone with them and has a real conversation. You're not dealing with Paypal accounts, you're dealing with a person who should be nurtured, respected, and cared for.
This mentality carries over into any business. For an Etsy seller, how you package the product or the thank you note you write can make all the difference. Remember the person on the other end of that package.

Doing Business with Canada

  • Canadian rates mean you're getting a bargain. The Canadian dollar is really low right now, but a lot of Canadians do business in US Currency instead.
  • Postal rates are high. You'll be shocked by how expensive it is to ship things to Canada, and how long your packages will take to get there! But don't let Canada's high shipping rates scare you off. Canadians are used to paying a lot and don't mind. Just include that high shipping price with your orders, and it will be no problem.

4 Things You Might Not Know About Canadians

We couldn't resist asking Canadian Maggie Patterson about misconceptions we Americans have about her country.

  1. Canadians don't love it when you make fun of how they say "ey" all the time. Maggie does confess to saying "ey"and she doesn't realize how often it happens! However, she says it's no different than her southern friends saying "uh huh" all the time.
  2. Don't tell a Canadian that they have an accent. They don't have accents. :)
  3. Not every Canadian loves hockey! It's not required as part of your Canadian citizenship! Maggie's house is filled with legos and minecraft , not hockey.
  4. 90% of Canadians live within 100 miles of the border. This might explain why Canadians seem far more culturally sensitive towards the US than we Americans are of them! When Maggie and her husband drive into Northern Ontario, they ask each other, "who lives here? Rocks and trees..... just rocks and trees!"

Maggie's Funny Mom Moment

Maggie listens to a lot of podcasts in the car, so naturally her son has been hearing them for years. He loves to imitate all of the podcast introductions! Maggie's pretty sure she can make money selling these because they're just too good!

You'll have to tune into the podcast to hear which famous podcaster Maggie's son impersonates the best!

Stay in Touch with Maggie!

MaggiePatterson.com

The Marketing Moxie Podcast on iTunes

Direct download: Episode208020Maggie20Patterson_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:30am EDT

Instagram Marketing for Your Small Business:  Learn from a successful handmade Etsy seller on hosting loop giveaways, partnering with bloggers, cross-promoting, and reaching new audiences and getting instant sales via Instagram.  There are so many ways to leverage this unique form of social media to increase the bottom line of your shop.  Listen to the interview to hear all of Beth's best advice.

Have you thought about using Instagram to market your small business? You don't have to be a pro photographer or have a huge following to gain traction on the site.  Beth Newitt of Handcrafted Affairs drives sales of her custom hangers and accessories for girls via Instagram, and she and her husband make their living as creatives full-time!  With over 6,000 sales on Etsy and over 5,800 followers on Instagram, Beth has discovered strategies that work for her and her business.  She sat down with us to spill the beans, and I have to confess, I'm pretty excited to dig in and take action on her excellent advice!  

Pinterest may be the go-to site for bloggers to grow, but I'm convinced that Instagram is the go-to site for shop owners to do the same!

Press play on the podcast player below to hear the full story.

On the Podcast

2:01 - From DIY Wedding to Handmade Business
03:16 - How to Get those First Sales on Etsy
05:38 - How to Keep Custom Orders Organized
07:03 - 3 Ways to Partner with Bloggers
08:39 - How to Find the Right Bloggers and Shop Owners
12:11 - Expanding your Products by Thinking Outside the Box
13:50 - Why Big Orders Don't Overwhelm Beth
14:38 - Getting Started with Giveaways on Instagram
17:26 - Everything You Need to Know About Instagram Loop Giveaways
24:36 - Tips for Crushing it on Instagram
30:01 - How to Find Interesting People on Instagram
31:54 - All About StoreEnvy
36:11 - Using Instagram for Insta-Sales
39:36 - Beth's Tiny PhotoBomber

From DIY Wedding to Handmade Business

When Beth got engaged several years ago, she decided that she wanted a unique, non-cookie cutter wedding. She hopped onto Pinterest, and entered into "serious DIY mode." One of the items Beth created for her wedding was a fancy, personalized hanger with her name spelled out for her wedding dress to hang on.

Beth had a ton of fun creating everything herself, and she received so many compliments on what she made, that she decided to try selling more handmade items to other brides. She set up her Etsy shop, Handcrafted Affairs in 2011, and has been selling beautiful, personalized hangers and other wedding accessories ever since.  Beth and her husband, Jason, both make a living at home doing creative work. Jason is a painter who also has an Etsy shop.

How to Get those First Sales on Etsy

Beth used four main strategies for growing her Etsy shop in those early days:

  1. Partnering with Wedding Blogs. As a new bride herself, Beth was already familiar with many wedding blogs. She reached out to those blogs and offered discounts to other brides. She gave them a great deal early on. Beth confesses that she probably lost some money on those first sales, but she knew it was important to get sales and reviews to build up her shop's reputation early on.
  2. Customer Service + Feedback. Beth worked hard to provide excellent customer service to her first customers, and she encouraged them to leave feedback for her. She learned the ropes of working with brides (who can be quite particular!) and got feedback that served as social proof for other potential customers.
  3. Views, Favorites, + Sales. Beth knew from researching on the Etsy forums that more views, favorites, and sales in her shop would increase her SEO on Etsy and allow her listings to show up to more potential customers. Again, Beth earned those early views and sales by offering great deals to brides.
  4. SEO. Beth learned everything she could about search engine optimization, including selecting long-tail keywords and optimizing each listing with a great keywords in the tags, titles, and descriptions to get found more often.
Instagram Marketing for Your Small Business:  Learn from a successful handmade Etsy seller on hosting loop giveaways, partnering with bloggers, cross-promoting, and reaching new audiences and getting instant sales via Instagram.  There are so many ways to leverage this unique form of social media to increase the bottom line of your shop.  Listen to the interview to hear all of Beth's best advice.
Beth with her husband, Jason, and her daughter, Maeve.

How to Keep Custom Orders Organized

Beth doesn't use Etsy receipts for her orders, but instead creates a spreadsheet system that works for her.  For each order, Beth includes the name, details about how it will be customized, the color, any gift notes to be included, and the due date for the order.

Beth uses color codes for orders that need to go out more quickly than normal such as one week, or a few days versus her typical 1-2 week turnaround. (Rush orders are highlighted in green so Beth can see at a glance how to prioritize her work each day.)

3 Ways to Partner with Bloggers

Beth partners with bloggers via Instagram in three key ways:

  1. Coupon Codes. Beth offers exclusive coupon codes that bloggers can share with their audience.
  2. Product Reviews. Beth sends one of her hangers, or other products to a blogger in exchange for a review. An honest review from a raving customer is very effective. Beth gets her product out to brand new eyes and earns new customers as a result.
  3. Product Exchanges. Beth will make a custom hanger with the name of a blogger's child on it, or perhaps the blog or shop's brand name on the hanger. Then that blog or shop will send one of their products to Beth. Both parties then take photos and share instagram posts talking about each others' products. They both gain exposure from reaching a new audience with their brand. Since Beth's hangers are beautiful and really highlight clothing, many shops and bloggers love to use her hanger in photos again and again. It's free marketing for Beth!

Which strategies haven't worked so well?
Beth tried paid advertising once or twice when she first opened her shop, but that never worked out very well. Beth never saw a great return in the form of click-throughs or purchases from paid advertising. She says it's much better for a new audience to see a photo of her item and a blogger who has a personal connection to the item. For example, a blogger will say, "here's my gorgeous wedding dress on Beth's hanger!" or "Here's my little girl's adorable dress on Beth's hanger!"

How to Find the Right Bloggers and Shop Owners

Instagram has been an incredible tool for Beth's business. From day one, Beth has used it to partner with others to grow her customer base and support the work of other creative entrepreneurs. Beth loves the community of shop owners, moms, bloggers, and entrepreneurs that she's found on Instagram.

Beth took action in a few key ways to build relationships and partnerships with other creatives on Instagram:

  1. Find and Follow Creative Insta Users. When Beth first got on Instagram, the first thing she did was find other shop owners, bloggers, and lifestyle guru types that she admired, and she followed them.
  2. Reach Out. Beth sent out cold messages to about ten Instagram users she admired and that fit well with her brand and said "I really admire your shop or blog. This is what I do. I would love to send you some product if you're interested." Some people did not respond but for the most part Beth received a resounding "yes!" that they would love to receive a personalized hanger and they'd take photos and tag her on Instagram to increase her exposure.
  3. Be Genuine. Beth felt that because her communication was genuine and they were truly shops and bloggers that she admired, that her message was well-received.
  4. Give Your Products Away. Beth then sent her products to 5-7 shops and bloggers, and they started using her hangers in their photos. Their followers would see her items and she'd gain new followers and traffic as a result. Over time, more shops and bloggers have found out about her, and now they'll often reach out to her for partnerships.
  5. Trade + Cross-Promote. Beth also trades product with other shops, as mentioned above, so they can promote each others' work. There are several great t-shirt shops on Instagram that Beth loves, so she'll send a hanger with the shop owner's child's name or their shop's name, and they'll send her a shirt. Then they each take their items and photograph them together. Beth's followers see the other shop's items. The other shop owner's followers see Beth's items, and momentum builds!
Instagram Marketing for Your Small Business:  Learn from a successful handmade Etsy seller on hosting loop giveaways, partnering with bloggers, cross-promoting, and reaching new audiences and getting instant sales via Instagram.  There are so many ways to leverage this unique form of social media to increase the bottom line of your shop.  Listen to the interview to hear all of Beth's best advice.
Beth cross promotes with the shop, Sage and Sky.

Expanding your Products by Thinking Outside the Box

With Beth's very particular business of personalized hangers, one might assume that she simply sells them to brides and moves on. However, Beth didn't want to have a seasonal, niche business, so she thought outside the box to figure out what other customers might want a customized hanger. There are plenty of other cases where someone might want a special hanger for something ceremonious or special. One example was for clothing companies to market their products, as we discussed above. Another example is doctors for their white coat ceremonies. Beth recently fulfilled a huge order for a hospital who wanted to purchase a personalized hanger for every single one of their doctors on doctor's day. How cool is that?!

Instagram has opened Beth's eyes to different markets and the possibility of reaching brand new customers.

Why Big Orders Don't Overwhelm Beth

With large orders coming in, we were curious about how Beth finds the time to complete them. She said that large orders are often easier to complete, because she can batch each task and streamline her production process. She has the process down to a science at this point!

  • Beth creates all the wire names first
  • Next she assembles the wire names onto the wooden hangers.
  • Finally, she creates a packaging assembly line.

Getting Started with Giveaways on Instagram

Beth offers several tips for creating and hosting great giveaways on Instagram.

  1. Follow Shops You Love and that Mesh with Your Brand. Interact, favorite, and comment on their posts.
  2. Reach Out. Send a message to those shops you'd love to work with and say, "Hey, I'm putting together a giveaway, would you be interested?" Beth says that most shops are very receptive.
  3. Keep it Cohesive. Choose items that all mesh well together. You want to ensure that your followers will be interested in the other items in the giveaway, and that the same will be true for all of the other shops participating. For example, Beth did a giveaway that was full of First Birthday Items for a little girl. The items looked great together, and clearly, someone with a little girl at home would be interested in every single item and shop.
  4. Add some Variety. No one will get excited about a giveaway that's simply 10 different t-shirts from 10 different shops. Spice up your giveaway by having a nice variety of different products that still pair well together.
  5. Giveaway Photo. Make sure you create a beautiful collage photo that displays all the items the winner of the giveaway will receive. People are encouraged to enter a giveaway much more when they can see exactly what they'll get if they win. A generic giveaway photo can work, but a collage photo of items is much more effective.
  6. Size Matters. Ensure that your giveaway is large enough to leverage the power of multiple audiences. (Such as 5 or more shops) but small enough to not overwhelm and annoy your followers. For example, Beth once participated in a giveaway with 31 shops. The process to follow each shop in order to enter got a little tedious for everyone. Beth prefers giveaways with about 10 shops.

Everything You Need to Know About Instagram Loop Giveaways

Get a group of shops and/or bloggers together. Everyone gives away their own prize, but you share the same, beautiful collage graphic (as described above.) The giveaway host will send a tag list, and every shop participating sees the shop below them and tags that shop in their photo on Instagram.

Here's how the process works for someone entering a loop Giveaway:
Beth will post her gorgeous giveaway photo on Instagram, and she has tagged the shop below her in the photo. Her followers will see the graphic on Instagram. They like on the photo (which is their entry) then they tap on the photo which shows who was tagged in it. They tap that name and it takes them to the next shop. Once they're on the next shop's Instagram feed, they see the same giveaway graphic in that shop's feed, tap the photo to like it, then tap on the photo to see where the next shop is. Each giveaway entrant goes through this process until they get back to the first graphic they saw. At that point, they know they've completed the loop.

A loop giveaway can increase your followers and get your products in front of new eyes. Ideally, all of your followers would go through and see all the shops in the giveaway. Hopefully, they'll find other great products and shops they like and may return later as a customer.

Beth gave us a word of caution for loop giveaways: Expect to lose some followers after the giveaway ends. After the winner is announced, expect to lost about 10-20% of those new followers you gained from the giveaway.
On the other hand, by doing loop giveaways, Beth has gained great followers who are loyal customers and supporters of her work. Even if a follower doesn't end up winning the giveaway, if they love what you do, they'll purchase your products, recommend you to other people by tagging their friends on your posts, and it becomes a snowball effect in gaining new customers and more exposure.  (Who said Instagram marketing for your small business couldn't be fun?!)

How many followers does Beth gain with each giveaway?
Beth says that she averages about 200 new followers for each loop giveaway.

There's another type of giveaway that would get Beth thousands of followers. Here's why she chooses not to do them:
Cash loop giveaways can net you thousands of followers if you participate in them. Here's how they work. A group of shops or bloggers might pull their money together and give away $800 of paypal cash or a $600 target gift card. So many people are interested in entering these giveaways that your follower numbers can skyrocket, but you'll lose many more of these followers when the giveaway ends (Beth says 50-70% of these giveaway entrants will unfollow you!), and even those that stay aren't quality followers who will help your bottom line.
The people who enter cash giveaways aren't actually interested in the shops or blogs participating - they just wanted the cash. When the giveaway is over, that winner has no deeper connection with your products or your brand. They're gone.

When Beth does a giveaway, she gives the winners shop credit since her items are customized. But her giveaway winners often purchase way more than just what they won in store credit, and if they love the item, they'll come back for more later or tell their friends. Each giveaway winner becomes one more loyal customer who will spread the word about your brand and products.

Beth says she could do a cash giveaway once a week and have 50,000 followers on Instagram by now, but they wouldn't be quality followers. The important thing for her is business growth via happy, loyal customers, not vanity metrics.

Tips for Crushing it on Instagram

When we called her an expert at Instagram, Beth balked at that title! She says she's still learning a ton and simply uses trial and error along with getting advice from other shops and bouncing ideas off of each other. However, she has several great tips for being successful on Instagram.

  1. Make Insta-Friends. Beth highly recommends reaching out to other shops and bloggers and becoming "Insta friends". Like and comment on their posts. Encourage them. Get to know the other creatives around you.
  2. Photo Quality Matters. As with any visual form of social media, photos are everything! Edit your photos. Play around with brightening them up, or using filters and shadows.
  3. White Backgrounds for Products. While you don't want to get boring and shoot everything on white, having a great arsenal of products on white backgrounds not only makes them pop but makes it easier to create gorgeous collage photos for giveaways. Have those white background shots at the ready.
  4. Create a Cohesive Feed. Beth doesn't post just everything on Instagram. She's intentional about creating a nice mix of new products she's working on, giveaways, sharing about other shops, and sharing snippets of her own life. You need to think about what a new potential follower will see when they check out your home page. Your bio and photos need to be appealing. She also says, "don't be afraid to delete photos from your feed if it doesn't contribute anything... if you find later that it doesn't fit in." (Good point, Beth! I probably need to delete my excessive cute kid and hubby photos and post a few more product photos on our Instagram!)
  5. Engage with your Followers. Get to know the people who are following you. Ask them questions and have a dialog. "Once people see you as a human and a mom they're more interested in sticking around and seeing what you have to say."
  6. Respond to Comments. Beth tries to respond to all of her comments on Instagram even if it's just with an emoticon. She's a person - not just a company. That ability to know, like and trust her is what makes people want to buy from Beth!
  7. Comment on Others' Posts. Beth makes a point of going through and commenting on other people's photos in a genuine way. If sees something beautiful she compliments it. If she sees something interesting, she asks a question about it. Many times the other people commenting on that post will check you out, see what you do, like what they see, and follow you simply because you chose to be active and interesting on Instagram.

As with any form of social media, "the more involved you are, the more benefit you see from it."

How to Find Interesting People on InstagramHashtags. Beth searchd hashtags of things that interested her, such as handmade or motherhood-related hashtags.

  1. Hashtags.  Beth search hashtags of things that interested her, such as handmade or motherhood-related hashtags.
  2. Giveaways. Beth searched for loop giveaways and has found interesting shops that way as well
  3. Organically. By simply being active on Instagram, when Beth sees something she likes, she'll click on feed, follow it if she's interested, and then that leads her to other interesting people that Instagram user is following, and the chain keeps going!
  4. Friends. In the beginning, Beth followed her friends and then discovered what interesting people they were following.
  5. Customers. One of the shops Beth first discovered on Insta was because the shop owner was a customer of hers. Her shop is mommasaidt's and she posted about Beth and the hanger she loved from her. They're good Instagram friends now!

All About StoreEnvy

Beth has a Love/Hate Relationship with Etsy. They're fantastic in terms of giving her wedding traffic, but Etsy takes a fair amount of fees and there's fierce competition on the site.

Recently, Beth decided to branch out and focus on products for little girls and their mothers. She creates toddler fanny packs, called park packs (they are adorable!) and mom/daughter bracelet sets.

Beth wanted some separation between her wedding-focused Etsy shop and her new products, so she opened a StoreEnvy shop, and she pushes all her traffic from Instagram to come there instead of to Etsy. Beth is using it as an experiment to see how much traffic she's pushing on her own versus the traffic she gets from Etsy search.

StoreEnvy doesn't take fees unless someone finds you through their marketplace (in that case it's a 10% fee) but if you send customers there via email, Instagram, or other forms of social media, you only pay the payment processing fees for that customer.

Using Instagram for Insta-Sales

Beth loves using flash sales to sell items directly on Instagram. Selling on Instagram? How does that even work?

  • Post a great photo of your item offering it for sale. (A great discount helps, of course!)
  • Then say something like, "First paypal email will claim."
  • People can comment on the photo with the email tied to their paypal account, and Beth can send them an invoice directly through Paypal.
  • For example, Beth made Mommy and Me turquoise leather bracelets, but she only had enough turquoise leather for three sets. On Valentine's Day she posted a flash sale, saying, "first 3 paypal emails below will claim." She quickly sold all 3 sets.
Instagram Marketing for Your Small Business:  Learn from a successful handmade Etsy seller on hosting loop giveaways, partnering with bloggers, cross-promoting, and reaching new audiences and getting instant sales via Instagram.  There are so many ways to leverage this unique form of social media to increase the bottom line of your shop.  Listen to the interview to hear all of Beth's best advice.    How to Use Instagram to Host a Killer Loop Giveaway
Beth earnsInsta-Sales by posting her products on Instagram and invoicing via Paypal

What if someone doesn't want to post their paypal email for the public to see?
You can comment on the photo and say, "I will DM you my email" and then they send their email via direct message on Instagram. This way, they can still participate but they feel more secure about the transaction.
Not only can Beth send her customers invoices via Paypal, she can print the shipping labels through the interface also.

Another Example of a Great Flash Sale:
Beth made a cute little piggy bracelet, but there was a defect in the leather so she said "Sale on this - 50% off because there's a nick in the leather) within 10 minutes Beth had two customers who wanted it.

Beth's Tiny PhotoBomber

Beth admits that as a first-time mom with a 20 month old daughter, everything is a cute, adorable mom moment! Tune in to hear about Beth's little photo-bomber and her latest obsession.

Instagram Marketing for Your Small Business:  Learn from a successful handmade Etsy seller on hosting loop giveaways, partnering with bloggers, cross-promoting, and reaching new audiences and getting instant sales via Instagram.  There are so many ways to leverage this unique form of social media to increase the bottom line of your shop.  Listen to the interview to hear all of Beth's best advice.

Essential Tools For Instagram

Beth dropped us a line to shaare even more great advice on Insta! She listed her favorite apps and tools for making the most of the site.

Bazaart - Easily erases backgrounds on photos, great for collage making
Polyvore - Great for "shopping" to find clothes, accessories, etc to make collages with.  You can clip images from any website and erase background to create great "outfit of the day" posts
Rhonna Designs - Great for adding text, badges, etc to your photos. Stylish.
Flipagram - Beth says, "I haven't actually used this, but I've experimented with it and plan to use it soon to show my whole line of bracelets in one post."
Squaready - Takes any photo you have and makes it into a square so that it's IG ready
Your Followers - Beth says, "I do pay attention to unfollowers and new followers, especially after giveaways, to see what is effective and what is not!"

Stay in Touch with Beth!

Instagram: @handcraftedaffairs
Etsy:  HandcraftedAffairs.Etsy.com
StoreEnvy:  HandcraftedAffairs.StoreEnvy.com

Direct download: Episode207920Beth20Newitt_mixdown.20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:59am EDT

How to Sell on Amazon with work-at-home mom Saira Perl.  Learn the ins and outs of becoming a top Amazon seller.  Saira shares her tips on finding a great deal, buying and selling in bulk, selling during the Christmas season, being part of the fulfilled by Amazon program, and how to get found in Amazon's search results.  Learn everything you need to know to get started selling on the largest retail site.  |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com/78

Have you ever wondered if there are other ways to make money online besides blogging or selling on Etsy? There may be an alternative that you hadn't considered before. You can become an Amazon seller! Saira is a mom to two young girls, and she grossed $45,000 in Amazon sales in 9 months of selling on site in 2014. She shares her income breakdown here. Saira has learned through trial and error what works and what doesn't when it comes to selling on the internet's largest retail site. Get ready to dig into the details. Then... it's time to go shopping for those fabulous deals!

Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to Hear the Full Interview

On the Podcast

02:16 - The Jump from Job-land to Selling on Amazon
04:34 - Saira's First Product
05:49 - How to Find a Great Deal
07:27 - How to Register as a Seller on Amazon
08:26 - How to be Part of Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA)
11:07 - How to Make a Profit
11:59 - Start-up Costs for Selling on Amazon
13:58 - Special Rules and Restrictions for Amazon Sellers
16:53 - How to Start Selling with Just a Few Clicks
21:16 - How to Get Found in Amazon Search
26:00 - Sales Stats for 2014
26:59 - How Much Time Does it Take to Sell on Amazon?
30:54 - How to Sell on Amazon during Christmas
31:39 - How to Sell when it's not Fulfilled by Amazon
33:06 - Labeling and Processing your Products
35:23 - What do Camels have to do with Amazon?
37:22 - How Selling on Amazon has Impacted her Family
38:23 - MomResource.com
41:35 - A Patricia Arquette Moment?

The Jump from Job-land to Selling on Amazon

In December 2010, Saira had her first child. She and her husband were living and working in London at the time. Maternity leave in Europe is very generous, so Saira was blessed to have a year off to care for her daughter. Before Saira was able to return to the workforce, her husband's job moved them to Paris. Soon after, Saira's family moved again - this time to Florida! While pregnant with their second child, Saira knew that maternity leave in the US wouldn't afford her nearly as much time as she would like to have at home.

Saira began looking for ways to make money from home. Not only did she want to bring in extra income for her family, she wanted to stay active mentally too. Saira spent countless hours researching different ideas, and tried many things, such as a website about bath toys which morphed into baby shower information and a digital product.

Saira says that Amazon seemed like a great idea because she loves to shop, clip coupons, and use rewards programs. As she usually does, she simply jumped in to see what would happen!

Saira's First Product

Initially, Saira went to Costco to hunt for deals, but there are a lot of Amazon sellers who do the same thing. This high level of competition drives the price for certain products down. Saira bought packs of sharpies, but they didn't sell. Those sharpies are still in her closet at home.

Finally, Saira decided to sell what she knows, instead of attempting to sell what she thought other people wanted. As a mom to a four year-old girl and a four month-old girl, Saira knows little girls! She's an expert on toys and clothes for baby, toddler, and preschool girls, so she began shopping for clothes, toys, shoes, and dress-up costumes. Saira hunted for deals at Walmart, Toys R Us, and Kmart.

How to Sell on Amazon with work-at-home mom Saira Perl.  Learn the ins and outs of becoming a top Amazon seller.  Saira shares her tips on finding a great deal, buying and selling in bulk, selling during the Christmas season, being part of the fulfilled by Amazon program, and how to get found in Amazon's search results.  Learn everything you need to know to get started selling on the largest retail site.  |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com/78
Saira with her two girls

How to Find a Great Deal

When Saira first started selling on Amazon, she found deals by walking around the store with a shopping cart and filling it up, one item at a time. Later, she discovered how many deals she could find right from the comfort of her own home. She scoured Walmart.com, bought items on sale, and then sold those items on Amazon.com  (Saira confesses that she got to know the FedEx driver who delivered from Walmart really well!)

It might seem crazy to buy an item on sale from one website just to turn around and sell it for a much higher price on another site. However, this method of retail arbitrage really works! People who shop on Amazon generally like to shop on Amazon alone. They buy for convenience and fast shipping and they're not as concerned about the price. Customers who shop on Walmart.com, however, are looking at the bottom line far more often.

A Bonus Tip to Earn More Money:  Always uses Ebates to earn cashback when you shop online. Saira told us that Kohls has Kohlscash for their rewards program, and you don't have to sign up for a Kohls credit card to use it. Since Saira spends so much on inventory, these cashback and rewards programs pay off big time for her.

How to Register as a Seller on Amazon

Saira tells us that Amazon make it so easy to sell on their site! They have a "sell" link at the top of every page. Just click the link, and you can sign up as either an individual seller or a professional seller.

What's the difference between an individual versus professional seller?
A professional seller is someone who sells more than 40 items per month. You pay $40/month to Amazon to be categorized as pro, but you can sell unlimited quantities. As an individual seller, you can't sell more than 40 items per month, and you you pay by the item at $1 each. If you plan to sell on Amazon regularly, it's much more affordable to go "pro".

How to be Part of Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA)

Saira told us that it's not all that difficult to be an FBA seller. The requirements do vary by product, but below are the main things you need to have:

  • Labels so you can print out the bar codes for your product. (Amazon generates the bar codes when you enter your product into their system.)
  • UPC codes that you can place on your item so Amazon doesn't accidentally send someone else's item instead of yours when a purchase is made.
  • Cellophane bags that say, "Warning, this is not a toy."
  • Saira says that you can buy all of your packaging supplies right on Amazon and they're not expensive at all.

What if you send items that aren't packaged properly? You can still send those items to the warehouse, and Amazon will just charge you a fee to do the correct packaging for you.

Seller Tip: Buy in bulk as much as possible. At first Saira bought just one item here, and two items there, but by the end of the year she was purchasing 80 dresses, or 100 packs of diapers, and it became much easier to just load up one big box of the same product and ship it to Amazon. Labeling just a few items is much more confusing than labeling 100 items all at once that all have the same labels and packaging.

How to Make a Profit Selling on Amazon

There's a general rule of thumb that you can use to ensure you'll make a healthy profit on each item you sell: When you buy an item, make sure you can sell it for 3X the item's cost. So the item will cost you 33% of Amazon selling price, Amazon takes about 33% of that selling price in fees, and you take home 33% of the selling price as your profit.

Saira says that the cut Amazon takes on each item depends on the specific item and the item price. The more expensive an item is, the less Amazon's cut on that item is, so you stand to make a greater percentage of profit by selling a $100 item versus a $20 item.

Start-up Costs

Unlike other online businesses, there is a clear start-up cost involved in selling on Amazon. We were curious about how large this amount was. Can anyone get started selling on the site?

Saira told us that she started her Amazon career by spending just $200-$300 at Toys R Us. As she became an experienced seller, she became a little more brave with her purchases. For example, she bought 100 packs of Frozen curtains for girls' rooms.

Unfortunately, it's hard to fully predict what will sell and what won't, and Amazon can place their own, unpredictable restrictions on certain items. Saira has a closet full of Disney Frozen merchandise that Amazon would not allow her to sell during the Christmas season. They were selling Frozen items themselves and wanted to eliminate the competition. As the site owner, clearly Amazon can do what they want!

A Tip to Reduce Start-Up Risk: "You can always return products that don't sell," Saira says. She did stand in the Kmart return line once to return 100 pairs of slippers. She didn't realize that she needed special approval to sell shoes on Amazon. Furthermore, she had no idea that she could apply to get approved for that. She thought it was simply a restricted category and that she was out of luck. So, a very patient woman at Kmart individually returned 100 pairs of Mickey Mouse Slippers! Saira felt bad for the people behind her, but her wallet was quite grateful.

Special Rules and Restrictions for Amazon Sellers

  • Toys and games are generally approved for everyone
  • Clothes have special rules because Amazon wants to ensure that you've made a valid purchase and you're not selling knock-offs. You must be able to prove your purchase with a receipt.
  • Food has special rules because clearly, Amazon doesn't want you to sell expired items or items that could be a health hazard to others.
  • Other special categories. Sometimes, Amazon simply chooses to eliminate all of the competition and have a monopoly over a given category, as they did with Frozen merchandise during the Christmas season.
  • Use Customer Service to get approved. Saira told us that she emailed back and forth with the same woman from Amazon trying to get approved to sell clothing, and ultimately, she received approval. "Customer service was great," Saira says. It takes time and work to get approved, but it also narrows down your competition because many people won't take the time and effort to get approved for special items.
  • Labeling. You may have to add a UPC code to a product that doesn't have one. For example, Saira sold a Disney product that had its own labeling system. The UPC codes cost her $1 each, but the end sales price made the extra cost worth it.
  • Other requirements. Amazon has some specific rules for product photographs. Clothing cannot be photographed on hangers, and it must be on a white background. Saira would send Amazon a photo, then they would tell her what was wrong with it, then she would try again.

Is all of that hoop-jumping worth it? Saira says yes! Her biggest winner for sales were Sophia princess dresses for Halloween. She times things just right, and it was definitely worth it to stay persistent until she got that approval.

How to Start Selling with Just a Few Clicks

When you're just getting started as an Amazon seller, Saira recommends starting with items that are already in the Amazon database. There are so many. It's bigger than Walmart. Don't start with an obscure book or toy. Start with an easy item that you can find within the catalog that you know you can find for 1/3rd of that Amazon selling price somewhere else online.  Once you decide which item to purchase and sell, all you have to do is become a seller for that already-existing item on Amazon.

What does it mean to share a listing with other sellers?
When you sell a product that already exists as a listing on Amazon, you will share that product listing with every other seller for that item. Underneath the add to cart, and add to wishlist options on the right-hand side of a product, you'll see "Other Sellers on Amazon" listed. Below that in small font it says: Have on to sell? with a grey "Sell on Amazon" button. When you're the seller who's featured on the main search page for that item or in the main area at the top of the product listing, it's called having the "buy box". It's a bit unknown as to how Amazon decides which seller gets the buy box at any given moment for a given item.

There are some factors that help you to get the "buy box":

  1. Price. Having a low price, but not necessarily the lowest price for that product helps.
  2. Customer Reviews. The more reviews you've gotten on that product, the better.
  3. Seller Rating. The higher your overall rating as an Amazon seller, the better.

A word of advice: Don't ever try to compete against Amazon itself. If you notice that a produce says, "sold by Amazon" steer clear! You will never win. As an example, when Saira sells something on Amazon it says, "sold by MomResource, fulfilled by Amazon".
Sometimes Amazon would come in on a product that Saira had already started selling, but they tend to be very seasonal, so once they sell out of all of their inventory on an item, they'd start showing Saira's item again.